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As App Market Matures, Retention Becomes Key Metric


5324223435 08184240d8Back in the day, developers counted downloads to measure success, but it turns out, that's so 2009 now and the new way to measure success is not just pure numbers, but by looking at how many people keep and use the app.

A recent article on Localytics looked at this changing metric. Localytics began measuring not just how many times an app was downloaded, but how many times it was used. When they first started studying this data in March, 2011, they found that 26 percent of downloads were used just once. In other words, folks downloaded these apps, but for whatever reason, never used it again. (For the record, I have a bunch of apps that fall into that category on my phone.)

At the same time, they found that another 26 percent used an app more than 10 times, which is usage nirvana for app developers because it showed that users liked the app enough to keep coming back (and I have a fair number of those too; the ones that are my favorites).

And Pew found it gets even better for news site apps because as you would expect, if you are a loyal reader, you end up opening that news site app more than 10 times per month. I have several news and sports apps, which I open every day. My ESPN Score Center app is open all the time. It's one of my go-to apps along with social apps: Facebook, Twitter and Google +.

The key take-aways from this study are that measuring retention makes more sense than measuring downloads and iOS retention is way ahead of Android. As Localytics puts it, the numbers show that iOS "is crushing Android" when it comes to retention with a a 52 percent higher retention rate than Android.

Glenn Gruber, AVP of mobile solutions at Ness says this move toward measuring retention shows that the industry is maturing and likens it to web properties looking beyond pure page views.

"I agree that retention is  being a better metric, much in the same way that we used to only track hits to the website. Now we are more inclined to look at other factors such as time on site, conversion, and a host of more meaningful metrics," Gruber explained.

He added, "It's a sign that mobile is growing up and we're being more mature about measuring what matters to the business."

And developers need to be paying attention to these changing metrics because if the trend holds that iOS provides significantly greater retention, you may have to consider this in terms of how you distribute your development dollars.

For now, it's a trend that's worth watching and seeing if it holds. Google Play has only been in play for a short time and it will be interesting to see what impact the transition from a pure app store to a more general content store has on Google's numbers.

But it's clear that looking for ways to measure beyond pure download figures makes a lot of sense and you have to be looking for data that can help you direct development resources at the platforms that will generate the most value.

Photo by Sean MacEntee on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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