I attended, and presented at, the GSMA’s Mobile Asia Congress in Hong Kong last month, featuring App Planet. A few weeks have passed, so here’s a timely review of our findings, which are mainly focused on mobile app distribution and application stores. 

Many talks and presentations were given at Mobile Asia Congress on the initiatives of the application store field. Operators announced aggressive growth targets for their newly launched app stores, some called their app store launch a ‘strategic pivot’ and others discussed joining forces, such as in the WAC initiative. There was clearly a lot of attention when it came to mobile content and distribution.

Several of the presentations hammered home the fact that for many Asian countries the leading phones for mobile content consumption are not the iPhone and newest Android devices, but devices with an average selling price between US$50 and US$80. Nokia remains on top even though the role of Android and BlackBerry devices continues to increase rapidly.

The dominant role of the operator
It’s fair to say that since the introduction of the Apple App Store, when we talk about mobile content distribution we are really talking about app stores. The largest application stores are not operator-owned in many western countries, but by device manufacturers and OS platform owners who have their stores pre-installed on their devices. However, this is not always the case in Asia. For example, in China the role of the Apple App Store, Nokia Ovi Store and others is very limited. The country’s big carriers – China Mobile and Unicom – have launched their own stores in which they offer mobile content to their joint mobile data subscriber base of over 410 million consumers.

Differences in content consumption
Consumers from different regions download different types of content. This means that in local markets there are large opportunities for app developers. The overlap of the most popular downloaded content between most Asian countries and the United States is less than 30 percent, for example. 

Country overlap between top applications – Q3 2010

Aside from the differences in content consumption, there are also significant differences to be found in the leading distribution channels between countries. In China for example, the carriers are in play, whereas in Indonesia, the Nokia Ovi Store plays a more substantial role in app distribution.

Java and SMS
Many of the presentations at Mobile Asia Congress highlighted the fact that for mobile content, applications built in Java that rely on SMS communication are still key VAS revenue drivers – not apps that utilise the latest technology in phone hardware, but useful applications and games created with simplicity in mind. However, we can see that this is changing with the rise of Android for example, which has recently overtaken Symbian-based phone sales in Asian countries.

Impact for developers
Let’s say that you’re a developer ready to conquer the world with your great new app; what does the above mean for you? Here is our take:

We believe there is a large opportunity for developers to focus their attention on a selection of countries that share similarities in content consumption. It is often said that any real success in the mobile app market is for the happy few that enter the top rankings of leading app stores. We believe that in a world where differences in content consumption between countries are so large there is a tremendous opportunity for app developers who focus on local content.

By local we don’t mean location-based apps, but rather applications that fit with the consumer app behaviour in a number of countries. This may be a rich iPhone app created for the US and UK markets, or perhaps a basic Java app for developers looking to grow in countries like Indonesia and India.

It is our opinion that focusing only on a set of countries increases the chances of your app’s uptake. In turn, you can select a number of the leading stores in each of these countries (which may differ per country), and focus your distribution and marketing efforts on these channels. There are numerous examples of apps that started in local areas, only to see their rapidly growing success cross over into other countries.

Our conclusion? Start locally if you wish to maximise the chances of your app’s success!


Vincent Hoogsteder

Vincent is CEO of Distimo, an app store analytics company built to solve the challenges created by a widely fragmented app store marketplace filled with equally fragmented information and statistics. Check out his presentation from MAC App Planet, focused on consumer app consumption and regional differences, here.