The Washington Post recently reported that Apple has made as much as $45 million from the sales of iPhone apps. However, the true profit for Apple has been in iPhone sales, stimulated by the more than 50,000 apps available in the App Store. Fortune reports that the iPhone’s sales increased by a remarkable 245% in 2008. The availability of an app for just about everything is widely believed to be the driving force behind these sales numbers.
This led us to wonder which apps are helping Apple the most. We’ve gathered this information together into a top 10 List of apps contributing to Apple’s coffers. We used a variety of sources to come up with our conclusions:
Please keep in mind that this list represents our best estimation of the iPhone’s most lucrative applications. Some entries on this list may surprise you, just as they surprised us. If you feel you know of something we didn’t include, we invite your feedback. Please leave your tips, suggestions, and comments below.
This was a true surprise for us. Although we expected gaming to play a big role in our top 10 Paid Apps List, we didn’t expect this reprise of a mid 90s PlayStation game to be number one. Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D was originally released for the PlayStation (yes, that’s PlayStation version 1) in 1996. Now, 10 years later, Crash Bandicoot was emulated for the PlayStation Network, which made the game available for the PlayStation Portable and the PlayStation 3.
Although the Apps Store credits Vivendi Games Mobile as Crash Bandicoot’s developer, Vivendi is now owned by gaming mega-corporation Activision. While Activision has no other iPhone games at the moment, the success of Crash Bandicoot could lead to a great many other iPhone hits for the company. Activision owns a string of highly successful games, including Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and gaming rights to movie titles including "Spiderman," "Transformers," "Shrek," "007," and "Kung Fu Panda." Although it remains to be seen whether Guitar Hero would lend itself well to the iPhone format, it would be easy to see the movie titles being developed into iPhone games.
Crash Bandicoot’s intensive use of the iPhone accelerometer, which is a well liked feature among iPhone gaming fans, has certainly helped contribute to its success. In addition to topping the iPhone iTunes App Store all-time top 20 list, Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D easily tops our list of the top 10 most lucrative iPhone games, given both its download popularity and its comparatively high price of $5.99.
We rank Bejeweled 2, perhaps the most popular puzzle game of all time, as the number two cash cow for Apple’s App Store. While ranked as number four in Apple’s all-time top 20 paid downloads List, Bejeweled 2 sells for $2.99, which we feel has bumped it ahead, in terms of gross income, of the two 99 cent games in front of it in Apple’s list.
We spoke with Garth Chouteau of PopCap, the publisher of Bejeweled 2. Garth pointed out: “Bejeweled 2 is, according to Apple, the number four best-selling paid app of all time. As of this morning (May 26, 2009), [PopCap’s] Peggle is the number 11 top paid app for iPhone, number 10 for iPod Touch, and number eight top paid game.”
The massive public interest in puzzle games began for most gamers when Russian computer engineer Alexey Pajitnov created Tetris in 1984. Tetris led to 1989’s Columns (also called Jewels), which placed jewel images in Tetris-styled columns. PopCap freed jewel images from their columns and placed then in a Web-based Flash game with the introduction of the first Bejeweled in 2001, then Bejeweled 2 followed in 2004. As the developer of both Bejeweled and Peggle, PopCap and Apple appear to be doing quite well for each other.
Apple’s second most popular App Store download of all time, and our choice as the number three money maker for Apple, is Koi Pond. The success of the Koi Pond app surprised us a bit, as it managed to leap ahead of many games in paid download popularity.
Koi Pond has had an impressive history at the App Store. It was the top paying download of 2008, and is certainly one of the most talked about apps in iPhone discussion groups. Koi Pond is the highest grossing app for Apple in the Entertainment category of iPhone downloads.
Koi Pond sells for 99 cents, which is certainly the most popular price at the App Store (aside from free games). The Blimp Pilots, a five-person development team that created Koi Pond, also markets two other 99 cent iPhone apps: Name in Lights (an LED lighting simulator) and Distant Shore (which uses 3D beach graphics as the background for sending and receiving “messages in a bottle” to and from other random iPhone users).
Koi Pond is one of the closest things to a screen saver that we’ve seen for the iPhone. True screen savers have not appeared in the App Store, most likely due to Apple’s ongoing concern with battery-life issues.
It’s back to games, and for that matter, back to puzzle games, for the number four app on our list: Enigmo. Apple lists Enigmo as the third most downloaded paid app of all time. However, given factors including its low price (99 cents), we feel that Enigmo has made less money for Apple than the slightly less popular, but 300% more expensive, Bejeweled 2.
The popularity of puzzle games at the App Store is surprising. We suspected that arcade or action games would be more popular in the gaming sub-category. However, an April 16, 2009 report on O’Reilly Radar shows that puzzle games are indeed at the top of the gaming list, locking up 24.8% of the gaming market at the time of the O’Reilly survey.
Enigmo is published by Pangea Software, which is doing very well for both itself and Apple. Pangea has created nine iPhone apps, only one of which is free. Prices for the paid applications range from 99 cents (five apps), to $3.99 (two apps), to an unusually high $9.99 for PangeaVR Pro. A free version of PangeaVR Pro, called Pangea VR, is the company’s only free application. Also, Pangea's Cro-Mag Rally was the eighth most downloaded paid application in 2008 and is the 13th most downloaded app of all time. If we were to rate the companies that made the most money for Apple, and not by individual apps (possibly a thought for a future article), Pangea may well have ranked higher than number four.
Another somewhat unexpected and unusual choice rounds out the top five money makers for Apple’s App Store: iBeer Updated. Apple ranks iBeer as the number five most downloaded application of all time and the prices of the three apps below it (all at 99 cents) imply that none of these apps have been able to top iBeer Updated measured by gross income for Apple. iBeer Updated's rise to number five has been fairly recent, since the Apple top 20 list for 2008 showed it in an impressive but still distant 10th place.
The iBeer Updated app is used to simulate a cold frothy beer on your iPhone. When tilted to your mouth, the iPhone’s accelerometer detects the tilting and simulates the beer disappearing into your mouth. An option is included for a loud burping sound when the virtual beer is finished.
Just the thought that someone came up with this idea for a paid iPhone app is amusing. But the fact that so many iPhone users have actually bought enough copies of it to propel the application to the number five spot may be better described as disquieting. Yes, we know, it’s only 99 cents, but still. In any case, even though it ignored our emails, we pass along our compliments to iBeer’s developer, Hottrix. Anyone that can make so much cash from an idea that seems so impractical in a bad economy has earned a pat on the back.
The number six app in Apple’s all-time top 20 paid downloads list and the number six application in our list is Moto Chaser. Moto Chaser brings us back into familiar and expected territory: a game application doing very well for its developer and for Apple. Moto Chaser includes impressive 3D graphics and makes good use of the iPhone’s accelerometer, both of which are qualities that iPhone gamers clearly appreciate.
Moto Chaser is a product of Freeverse, another company that has an impressive history with iPhone apps. Freeverse has a total of three free and 12 paid applications available in the Apple App Store, with prices ranging from 99 cents to $4.99. If we were ranking companies instead of apps in order of which contribute the most to Apple's profits, Freeverse would have come in ahead of the number six ranking of Moto Chaser, its most popular paid app.
“Freeverse has sold over 2.5 million apps. This does not count free apps," Freeverse Vice President Colin Smith said. "Moto Chaser and Flick Fishing account for maybe 65% of that total. Flick Bowling and SlotZ Racer also had nice runs as top 10 apps.” If all of the Freeverse paid applications sold for 99 cents (and we know some sell for more), then that would be an impressive $1.75 million gross iPhone income (taking into account the Apple/developer revenue split) for Freeverse, a company that has clearly found a formula for making the most of the iPhone platform.
The number seven app in Apple’s all-time top 20 paid downloads List is Pocket Guitar, followed by Flick Fishing at number eight. However, both of these apps are priced at 99 cents, and followed by apps in the nine and 10 slots that each sell for $4.99. Thus, we feel that Tetris, ranked at number nine in the all-time top 20 paid downloads list, and priced at $4.99, has jumped ahead of both Pocket Guitar and Flick Fishing to take the number seven spot, measured by gross income generated for Apple.
Tetris is published by Electronics Arts and represents just the tip of the Electronic Arts iceberg. This gaming monster has a total of 19 applications available in the App Store, only three of which are free. The other paid apps include iPhone versions of classic board games including Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble, Sudoku, Trivial Pursuit, and Yahtzee and three of Electronics Art’s apps are sold at the unusually high price of $9.99: Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Need for Speed Undercover, and The Sims 3. Clearly, if we were ranking Apple income based on companies instead of individual applications, we feel that Electronic Arts would have finished even higher than Tetris’ number seven slot.
There has been a great deal of speculation that upcoming iPhone releases from Electronic Arts will include Madden NFL, one of the most successful franchises in the history of gaming. While Electronic Arts has not put out a press release specifically stating that Madden NFL will be made available for the iPhone, we found a single phrase on the Tetris App Store Page that confirms EA’s intentions: “Coming Soon: Madden NFL 10 by EA Sports.” We’ll look forward to seeing how well the intricacies of Madden NFL play out on the iPhone, while some gamers have argued that Madden NFL is too complex for the platform.