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App Downloads: A Deceptive Measure of Success

Althea Chang
Big Data Download

Angry Birds has been downloaded a billion times, but that number isn't the best gauge of the app's success. Many apps are downloaded, used once and never again, according to one analytics company.

Until recently, the number app downloads were considered the default measure of popularity, said Raj Agarwaal CEO of app analytics company Localytics.

"The only metric people seemed to care about in the app world were downloads, and ultimately downloads aren't that important," Agarwaal told “Big Data Download.” Only 34 percent of downloaded apps are used more than 11 times, according to Localytics data.

The more important metric is user engagement, measured by the number of people who use the app regularly, Agarwaal said. By monitoring those engaged users in particular, companies can track users’ habits and behaviors to find out which app features users like and don't like.

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App developers are learning from the data they're getting from those users. In a recent study, Localytics found that 22 percent of the apps the company tracks are downloaded, used once and never again. That metric, known as abandonment rate, has actually improved since 2010, when 26 percent of apps were used only once.

App User Retention

"The point is you need to understand how many people are coming back to your app on a regular basis, and then also, how long are they staying with you? After 30 days, after six months, what percentage of users are still with you?" Agarwaal said.

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Localytics tracks 20,000 apps used on 750 million devices, according to the company. That compares with more than 100,000 companies' apps tracked by competitor Flurry Analytic, which says its data comes from a billion app users. Localytics has worked with some big name apps such as The New York Times, eBay and Skype. Flurry is used to track Rovio's wildly popular “Angry Birds” game, apps from retailers such as Starbucks and Walgreen's, and entertainment apps including Hulu and Viacom's VH1.

Web and television analytics giant Comscore also measures app usage and recently released a platform that combines Web, smartphone and tablet analytics.

Regardless of which company is doing the tracking and the individual apps being tracked, user data collection raises privacy concerns for some app users and potential users. That creep factor, possibly deterring downloads in the first place, could skew results as companies attempt to get a better understanding of their customers.