The social networking app category has grown “much faster than the overall app store average”, according to a review of the market by Distimo.

It said that from July 2010 to July 2012, total growth in download volume for Apple’s App Store was 43 percent, whereas social apps (defined as those in the social or photography categories which aim to build a network of users) grew by 193 percent.

It noted that this is “odd”, as the number of social networks is limited, and the average shelf life is high. In contrast, “there are many new games published every week and users can install many games which they play for a while”.

Smartphone owners in the United States were described as “the most social savvy”, with social download volumes making up 20 percent of the total for the top overall apps.

Users in Europe and South East Asia were the least social minded, with Distimo noting that “in most of the countries in those regions this percentage does not exceed 10 percent”.

Facebook dominates, but challengers growing
The most popular mobile social network aggregated across all countries for the two year period was Facebook. However, in some – mainly Asian – markets, from July 2011 to June 2012 applications such as LINE, WeChat and Viber took over the leading position.

Among the markets where Facebook has lagged in popularity are China and South Korea.

Also in the most recent year, Instagram became the second most popular social app, aggregated across the 20 largest markets. It was suggested that “Instagram could have potentially harmed Facebook’s dominant position, which might indicate why Facebook acquired Instagram”.

From July 2011 to July 2012, some apps fell in terms of popularity, including Windows Live Messenger and Skype.

Also highlighted as a big success among paid applications during this period was WhatsApp, although Distimo said that “as paid applications have on average between 14 times and 40 times less downloads, it is not as large as Facebook”.

Distimo said that this app goes on sale “once in a while” and based on these few days, still reaches the top 25 free apps in many countries. “It likely would have been one of the most popular social applications in the world if Whatsapp would issue a free version,” it noted.

Instagram, rivals gaining ground
In addition, a snapshot of the 10 largest markets in July 2012 shows that Facebook was “clearly not the largest social network application in terms of downloads anymore”. Aggregated across the 10 biggest markets, the “clear winner” was Instagram. In addition to Instagram, applications such as Twitter, Skype and Whatsapp were more dominant at this point in time.

LINE is doing “only slightly better” than Facebook in Japan and South Korea, meaning Facebook is catching-up in these markets.

In China, the popularity of Facebook is low, with local networks such as QQ and Wechat having 5-to-6 times more iPhone downloads than Facebook in July 2012.

Distimo said that the only markets where there were no signs of the popularity of Instagram were China, Japan and South Korea.