A new study released by Canalys Thursday demonstrates that the world's most popular iPhone apps are being priced significantly lower in Apple's iTunes App Store than the top paid Android apps in Android Market.
In the United States, for example, the average price of Android Market's top 100 is $3.74 per Android app, vs. $1.47 per iPhone app in the iTunes App Store.
Though it is a plus for developers to apparently be able to charge more for their apps on Android, the reality is that fewer people are willing to purchase apps on Android than on iOS today, said Rachel Lashford, managing director for mobile and Asia-Pacific at Canalys.
"Developers and publishers need to balance the iOS volume opportunity with a potentially greater value per download opportunity on Android -- where more apps command higher price points," Lashford said.
Though selling more apps at higher prices is the Holy Grail for developers, achieving big volumes on Android is no small challenge, Lashford said.
"More aggressive price competition around Android apps would help to encourage more consumers to make their first app purchases, drive greater download volumes, and ultimately be good for the vibrancy of the app ecosystem," Lashford said.
A Much Bigger Audience to Monetize
There are several key factors that are likely influencing the mobile app price discrepancy between Android Market and the iTunes App Store, said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC. For example, the early market leads that Apple gained when it launched its iconic iPhone and iPad should not be overlooked.
Developers price their apps "based on the volumes they anticipate to sell," Hilwa said. "The bigger the demonstrable audience to monetize over, the lower and more competitively you can set a price."
What's more, Apple has not only captured "the upper end of the user-base" but also has the ability to provide developers with access to a much less fragmented smartphone or tablet audience. "[This] creates a much bigger effective audience to monetize over," Hilwa said.
Yet another important effect is the level of promotion pricing. "In retail the price set is not always the price paid and so a promotionally oriented will show much higher average prices," Hilwa explained. "I think this is a big contributor to the effect."
Price Competitiveness Is Crucial
The iTunes App Store is a mature but still very closely controlled retail environment while Google's Android Market remains more open but also less secure and consumer friendly. Given the differences, "developers and publishers use the stores in different ways," said Canalys Senior Analyst Tim Shepherd.
Price competitiveness is crucial in Apple's store -- where the vast majority of top paid apps cost just $0.99 -- but less so in Android Market. "This leads to disparities whereby an app such as Monopoly is priced at $4.99 in the Android Market, but is discounted to just $0.99 in the Apple App Store," Shepherd explained.
Price competitiveness has quickly become a hallmark at the Amazon Appstore, which accounted for 28 percent of the top 100 Android apps during January, according to Distimo. Like Apple, for example, Amazon sells the Monopoly app for just $0.99 and has even been giving away some paid Android apps for free -- despite having to compensate developers for the privilege.
Average price of the top 100 paid applications in the Amazon Appstore was 40 percent lower during January than in the Google Android Market, the mobile app metrics firm reported earlier this month.
"One of the reasons could be that Amazon is responsible for setting the price in its store," noted Hendrik Koekkoek, the author of Distimo's new report. "While all available paid apps are $3.13 in the Google Android Market, these applications are $2.77 in the Amazon Appstore."