App store analytics company App Annie today released its Index for February 2013, analyzing the social networking category in the app stores, and apps dominating the space including WeChat, Line, Kakao, Zoosk, Badoo, Find My Friends, Facebook and more.
From January 2012 to January 2013, the social networking category moved from the No. 12 largest category in terms of monthly iOS revenue, to the No. 3 spot, behind the games and productivity categories. That translates to an 87 percent increase year-over-year, when the social networking category represented only 3 percent of total Apple App Store revenue in January 2102.
App Annie saw revenue growth in the category across all major countries. Japan showed the most growth, with a tenfold increase in monthly revenue year-over-year from social networking apps, led by messaging app Line. South Korean NHN Corp.’s Line was already at the top of the download charts at the beginning of 2012, and later moved up the top grossing charts in April 2012.
App Annie vice president of marketing Oliver Lo, formerly of Zynga’s China office, tells Inside Mobile Apps that App Annie is seeing the same regional trend social networks went through on the web, where social networks like Orkut, Mixi and Friendster dominated certain regions until Facebook took over and became the dominant social network globally.
“Social networking in mobile is in an early stage, and we’re seeing that it’s more akin to the early stages in web, where it is regional and the top social networking app in each region isn’t the same app,” he says. “It will be interesting to see if that continues or if one player dominates globally.”
Although the social networking category jumped nine spot on App Annie’s top categories by monthly revenue for iOS, the category dropped down 1 spot from No. 5 to No. 6 year-over-year on the top categories by monthly downloads for iOS. Despite the drop in ranking, downloads for apps in the social networking category were up 30 percent year-over-year, and social networking apps account for 5 percent of total downloads on the Apple App Store. China was the notable country that showed the fastest growth by downloads for social networking apps, seeing monthly downloads double from January 2012 to January 2013. Currently, half of the downloads in the social networking category worldwide come from the U.S. and China — although revenue from social networking apps in China remains low. Apps that contributed to China’s download growth in the social networking category were Micro Love — For Lovers from Discovery Bay and Love Chat — Free Call, published by Ailiao.
App Annie listed the top social networking apps worldwide by monthly downloads for iOS in January 2013, showing Facebook Messenger at the No. 1 spot. At the same time last year, the Facebook app was the No. 1 app, only to be dethroned by one of other apps in its portfolio like Instagram and Poke. Lo believes this is a sign that Facebook’s multi-app portfolio strategy is working.
Interestingly, Apple’s Find My Friends app catapulted up App Annie’s chart from the No. 15 spot to the No. 2 spot year-over-year. The release of iOS 6 in September 2012 contributed to the surge in downloads for Find My Friends, as users were promoted with the option to download the app among other Apple apps when upgrading from iOS 5 to 6 or activating a new iOS device. Other notable apps in the top 10 were Pinterest at the No. 8 spot and Tencent’s WeChat, the dominant messaging app in China, at the No. 6 position.
The top iOS social networking app by revenue for January 2013 was NHN Japan’s Line, thanks to its in-app purchases of a special emoji, known as “stickers,” which were mostly purchased by the Japanese audience. WhatsApp Messenger, the popular messaging app in the states, came in at the No. 2 spot. What’s interesting about WhatsApp is how it monetizes. On iOS, its a premium download for $0.99, while on Android a $0.99 per year subscription kicks in after the first free year ends. Dating apps rounded out the top 10, with the likes of Badoo, eHarmony and Match.com, as well as gay dating apps such as Grindr Xtra and Scruff.
“The [dating apps] are embracing the in-app purchase model,” Lo says. “They are essentially selling various dating features like extra messages, getting your profile to the top so more people see your dating profile and a bunch of other social features and mechanisms that can monetize people through microtransactions.”
Lo explains that the apps at the top of the download list predominately monetize through an ad model, while apps on the revenue list monetize through an up-front cost or predominantly from in-app purchases.
“Clearly monetizing through mobile advertising is a challenge. No one has figured that out yet. No one is able to monetize at the same rates as web advertising. Whereas those [apps] monetizing through the [app] store are monetizing at same, if not, a higher rate on mobile. (more…)