App Genome Report

The App Genome Project is the world’s largest mobile application dataset created to map the anatomy of mobile applications across multiple mobile platforms and app markets. To date, the project has analyzed more than 500,000 Android and iOS applications. The App Genome Project was created in 2011 by Lookout Mobile Security as an ongoing effort to provide insight into mobile market dynamics, gain insight into how mobile apps access personal data and sensitive capabilities on mobile devices, and identify security threats in the wild.

Highlights

Platform Wars: Growth of Apps in The Android Market Outpaces Apple App Store, but iOS Still Attracts Far More Developers

  • The number of apps available on the Android Market increased by approximately 127% since August 2010, while the Apple App Store grew at a relative rate of 44%.

  • If each market continues to grow at the same rate, the Android Market will have more apps than the Apple App Store by mid-2012.

  • Android Market developers typically release more apps than Apple App Store developers. On average the Android Market has 6.2 apps per developer and the Apple App Store has 4.8 apps per developer.

  • Note, App Genome Project replicates the experience of a U.S. user. For both the Android Market and Apple App Store it only accounts for apps available for download to U.S. users.

App Economy: The Android Market is Maturing with Growth in Paid Apps

  • The Android Market’s prevalence of paid apps increased from 22% in August 2010 to 34% in February 2011, whereas the proportion of paid apps in the Apple App Store decreased slightly during the same period, going from 71% to 66%.

  • Android Market price points have increased: the proportion of paid Android Market apps costing $0.99 or less decreased from 61% in August 2010 to 37% in February 2011.

  • In terms of advertising within apps, the Google AdMob SDK is integrated into more free apps in both the Android Market and the Apple App Store than any other ad platform, though iAd is quickly gaining traction in the Apple App Store.

  • Personal Info: Nearly One Third of Apps in Android Market and Apple App Store Access Users’ Location

The Apple App Store has a higher prevalence of apps with the capability to access contacts and location than the Android Market.

  • 28% of all apps in the Android Market and 34% of all free apps in the Apple App Store have the capability to access location.

  • 7.5% of Android Market apps and 11% of Apple App Store apps have the capability to access users’ contacts.

Alternative App Markets: Increase Choice of Apps, but Some Have a Higher Propensity for Security Risks

  • The App Genome Project analyzed two alternative markets for Android that target Chinese users. While these markets serve a legitimate need for localized apps, they also host pirated and repackaged apps. Nearly 11% of the apps also available on the Android Market were found to be repackaged and likely submitted by someone other than original developer.

  • Of these repackaged apps, a quarter request more permissions than the original app.

  • In the case of iOS, alternative markets provide owners of jailbroken devices access to unique or pirated apps.  We found that one of the markets we analyzed predominately hosts pirated apps (85%).

  • 8% of all paid apps in the Apple App Store were found pirated on one alternative iOS market.

Methodology

The data for this specific report is drawn from the Android Market, the Apple App Store, and four specific alternative markets–two for Android and two for iOS. When analyzing apps available at a particular point in time, this report considers the most recent version of each application that was available at that point in time so as not to count updates as separate apps; if an app is unpublished from the market at that point in time, the most recently available version of that app is used. Data gathered from the Android Market and Apple App Store was analyzed to replicate the experience of a user in the United States; applications are not counted if they are not available to US users.

When analyzing applications for capabilities and the presence of SDKs, the App Genome Project analyzes binaries for free applications in order to detect the presence of particular types of code. As with any form of static analysis results, it is important to note that even if a given application has the capability to access a particular type of sensitive data or has a particular SDK present, the application does not necessarily utilize that capability or the included SDK when run on a device.

Platform Wars: Android vs. iOS

In support of recent handset shipment data covering Android’s tremendous growth, we found that even though there are more total apps in the Apple App Store, the Android Market’s relative growth rate is nearly three times that of the Apple App Store. If each market continues to grow at the same rate, the Android Market will have more apps than the Apple App Store by mid 2012.

  • The number of apps available on the Android Market increased approximately 127% since August 2010, while the Apple App Store grew at a relative rate of 44%.

  • The Apple App Store is still in pole position in terms of total apps— with nearly 350k—by adding 100k new apps in the past 6 months. The Android Market has fewer apps, at nearly 90k, but has added nearly 50k in the last 6 months, more than doubling its size.

  • Note, App Genome Project replicates the experience of a U.S. user. For both the Android Market and Apple App Store it only accounts for apps available for download to U.S. users.

The Android Market may be growing at a faster rate than the Apple App Store, but the Apple App Store continues to attract a significant portion of developers.

The number of unique developers publishing applications in the Android Market and Apple App Store is growing at a comparable rate for each platform—with Apple slightly in the lead.

  • The Apple App Store attracted nearly 24k developers between August 2010 and February 2011, whereas the Android Market attracted just over 4k developers in the same time period.

  • The number of unique developers in the Apple App Store grew by approximately 48% over the past 6 months, while the number of unique developers in the Android Market grew by just over 40%.

  • The Android Market generally has more apps per developer than the App Store [fig3]. The average number of apps submitted per developer is 6.6 in the Android Market and 4.8 in the App Store.

The App Economy: Who is Charging for Apps?

Previously, apps in the Android Market have been primarily free; however, over the past 6 months, the Android Market has seen an influx of paid apps. In contrast, the Apple App Store has seen an increase in the proportion of free apps, with prices of paid apps remaining steady.

  • The Android Market saw its prevalence of paid apps grow from 22% to 34% during the past 6 months.

  • The prevalence of paid apps in the Apple App Store decreased from 70% to 66% in the past 6 months.

In the Android Market, prices have shifted upwards whereas in the Apple App Store, prices have remained relatively steady.

More than 95% of paid apps in the Android Market cost less than $10, though the prevalence of apps priced greater than $10 has significantly increased during the past 6 months.

  • While most Android Market apps are priced at $2.99 or less (73%), the $0.99 or less price point has seen a major decrease.

  • The largest areas of growth in the Android Market are in apps priced between $1-$9.99, with both the $1-$2.99 and $3-$9.99 segments seeing significant growth.

  • In the Apple App store, price points have for the most part remained steady.

Advertising SDK Integration

In free apps for both the Android Market and Apple App Store, Google AdMob is the most popular ad platform. The marketshare of advertising SDKs in free apps has remained relatively consistent, with the exception of iAd rapidly gaining traction in free Apple App Store apps. We expect to see iAd surpass AdMob in prevalence amongst free Apple App Store apps during the first half of 2011.

  • AdMob is the dominant player on the Android Market, being integrated into over 40% of free apps. Amongst free Android Market apps, the AdMob SDK has increased in prevalence from 37% to 41% over the last 6 months.

  • AdMob is the incumbent on iOS, being present in 17% of free apps on the Apple App Store.

  • iAd may emerge to become the dominant player on iOS, having grown from just 5.6% of free Apple App Store apps to 15% during the past 6 months.

  • Please note that the App Genome Project dataset measures prevalence of advertising SDKs in free apps, some apps including more than one advertising SDK. This report does not measure the reach, number of ad impressions, or any related measures of mobile ad market share for the advertising networks used by these SDKs.

Personal Info: What are Apps Accessing?

Close to a third of apps in both the Apple App Store and the Android Market have the capability to access users’ location, and, overall, there more are apps in the Apple App Store with the capability to access location or contact information than the Android Market. While the prevalence of access to sensitive data is still quite high, both platforms have seen a small decrease in the proportion of apps having the capability to access location or contacts over the past 6 months. This trend may be driven by an increased level of developer sophistication and a heightened awareness of privacy concerns amongst both users and developers. We expect that as developers gain more skill in developing for Android and iOS, there will be fewer applications that accidentally access personal information and more applications that do so purposefully.

  • 28% of free apps in the Android Market and 34% of free apps in the Apple App Store have the capability to access location.

  • 7.5% of free apps in the Android Market and 11% of free apps in the Apple App Store have the capability to access contacts.

  • Over the past 6 months, the prevalence of apps in the Android Market that have the capability to access location has decreased modestly by approximately 1.6%, while the prevalence of apps having the capability to access contacts has decreased by approximately 0.6%. In the same time period, the prevalence of free apps in the Apple App Store that have the capability to access location has decreased by approximately 2.6% and the prevalence of apps having the capability to access contacts has decreased by approximately 3.6%.

Alternative App Markets: What Purpose do They Serve?

Currently, there is little data available characterizing alternative app markets for either iOS or Android. While there are a number of alternative app markets for these platforms, this report focuses on results from two specific alternative app markets for each platform. In analyzing these markets, we seek to understand the difference between the types of apps available in official and alternative markets and identify risks associated with downloading apps from them.

Alternative Android App Markets in China: A Prevalence of Repackaged Apps

For Android, we analyzed two alternative app markets that primarily target Chinese users. These markets contained several categories of apps, ranging from unique apps found only in these markets to pirated versions of paid apps.

  • Unique apps represented the largest proportion (61%), likely because these markets address a regional need not met through the Android Market.

  • Redistributed versions of free apps available in the Android Market make up 36% of the apps in the two alternative markets.

  • Pirated versions of paid Android Market apps made up only 2% of the apps in the two alternative markets.

Looking inside the apps on the alternate markets that also appear for free or paid in the official Android Market (i.e. redistributed and pirated, respectively), we found that some were likely modified by a third party (i.e. repackaged) before being uploaded to the alternate market. Of the repackaged apps, many also requested access to more permissions than their legitimate counterparts. The additional permissions requested by repackaged apps often include access to location, contact information, phone information (e.g. phone number, IMEI, IMSI), Internet access, and the ability to place phone calls. The repackaging of these apps, along with the requests for additional access to sensitive information, is often the effect of a third-party adding an illegitimate ad network or malicious code having functionality such as making premium rate phone calls or sending premium rate SMS messages without the user’s knowledge. There have been multiple instances in the past few months where repackaged apps in alternative Android markets have served as hosts for malware. The Geinimi Trojan found earlier this year is an example of this.

  • Nearly 11% of apps in alternative markets that are also available in the Android Market are repackaged (i.e. likely modified by a third party). Of the repackaged apps, nearly a quarter request more permissions than the original version in the Android Market.

  • Over 6% of apps in alternative markets that are also available in the Android Market are pirated. Of these, approximately 14% request additional permissions than their paid counterparts.

Alternative iPhone Markets: Apps for Jailbreakers

Alternative markets for iOS provide owners of jailbroken devices access to apps not available in the Apple App Store and, in some cases, to pirated apps as well. This report focuses on data from two alternative app markets for iOS devices. The first market primarily hosts pirated apps from the Apple App Store while the second market focuses on unique apps and libraries not available in the App Store and is primarily targeted at power users. The second market is unique in that it does not have a single catalog of apps, but instead utilizes a variety of user-selectable third-party repositories to supply the packages available for download. Because some third-party repositories alter the identifiers of their packages, some applications that are considered unique may actually be redistributed or pirated versions of apps in the App Store. This report focuses on 26 popular repositories available for this market to get a broad look at this market as each repository may have a different composition of unique, redistributed, and pirated packages.

  • 85% of the apps in one alternative iOS market were pirated versions of paid apps available in the Apple App Store. 5% of the apps in this market are offered for free in the Apple App Store.

  • 8% of all paid apps available in the Apple App store are found pirated in one alternative iOS market.

  • Nearly all apps in another iOS market are unique to jailbroken devices.

Conclusion

Over the past six months there have been major developments in the mobile app ecosystem, particularly due to the growing and rapidly maturing Android Market. We expect both the Android Market and Apple App Store to continue growing at a rapid clip, especially given the overall growth of both platforms. As both developer skill increase and user awareness about private data accessed by apps increase, we expect app developers to more judiciously access it. We also expect to see more consolidation in the number of ad SDKs in the market with some of the smaller players perhaps leaving the market.

Alternative app markets for both Android and iOS exist to fulfill a specific need not covered by official markets. The Android alternative markets meet a regional need not covered by the Android Market, and in the case of iOS, alternative markets provide owners of jailbroken devices access to unique or pirated apps. While the uses for alternate markets differ, the data indicates a significantly lower degree of curation and therefore a higher risk of threats. For both Android and iOS, the conclusion is the same: users need to apply extra caution in downloading apps from alternative markets to mitigate the risk of downloading malicious, pirated or repackaged applications.

As the overall app ecosystem continues to evolve with the addition of new alternative app markets, strategic moves made by the competing platforms and heightened awareness about the capabilities of the apps on our devices, we expect to see even more dynamic changes in the coming months.

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