Main image of article Top App Charts Suggest Pain for Indie Devs

Which mobile apps have dominated the charts so far in 2015? According to new data from app-analytics firm App Annie (PDF), the list is stuffed with the usual suspects. Excluding games, iPhone apps with the greatest number of active users included, in descending order:

  • Facebook
  • Skype for iPhone
  • Facebook Messenger
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Pandora Radio
  • Snapchat

While top iOS games (also in descending order) included:

  • Trivia Crack
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Candy Crush Soda Saga
  • Clash of Clans
  • Modern Combat 5: Blackout

Top apps for Android phones also emphasized the communication and social categories, albeit with a greater focus on Google apps: Google, YouTube, Maps, Facebook, Gmail, Chrome Browser, and Facebook Messenger headed up the charts in the U.S. What does this data mean for your average app builder? That unless a major tech firm backs your software, it’s difficult to penetrate the upper echelons of the app stores’ lists—and even then, there are no guarantees. A traditional ad campaign or a successful viral marketing effort might get an indie app enough attention to appear as a featured or go-to app in Google Play or Apple’s App Store, but it’s difficult to sustain that momentum, especially when Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are competing for the same slots. In a bid to stand out from the mob, several developers have resorted to launching their apps for free, without a strong revenue model in place. Launching an app for free can help drum up downloads, but eventually those developers need to eat. When developers actually start charging for their digital goods, they’re finding that the eventual revenues are often quite low, even if the app seems to do well on an app store’s overall rankings—for example, developer Sam Soffes recently found that his $4.99 app for Mac, which hit #1 for paid apps in the Mac App Store’s Graphics category, pulled down a mere $452. (While the Mac App Store isn’t a perfect comparison to the iOS App Store, his story nonetheless illustrates the difficulty that app developers face.) So how does your average developer make money? As with any other venture, it requires a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. A solid product, good marketing, and a well thought-out revenue stream (whether in-app purchases, advertising, or some other means) can potentially see a creator through… but there are no guarantees.