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Android app downloads to beat iOS this year

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For a couple of years, mobile app marketplaces have largely been compared in terms of the number of apps they offer—and, historically, Apple’s iTunes App Store has been way out in front, with the Android Market ringing up a somewhat-distant second place and the likes of RIM, Windows Phone, Symbian, and the now-defunct webOS lost in the back of the pack. However, research firm Ovum may be opening up a new metric in the mobile app marketplace wars: the firm is forecasting that not only will mobile app downloads be up 144 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, but for the first time app downloads for Android devices will exceed those for Apple iOS devices.

“Consumers’ seemingly insatiable demand for mobile applications is set to continue this year, with downloads from app stores increasing around the world,” said Ovum analyst Nick Dillon, in a statement. “The outlook for the longer term is also positive, with consumers set to continue to use apps to add new features to their phones and to access their favorite services on the go.”

Ovum expects Android to garner some 8.1 billion app downloads this year, compared to about 6 billion for Apple iOS devices. Both figures mark substantial growth for both platforms: in 2010, Apple chalked up 2.7 billion app downloads while Android racked up 1.4 billion. Many factors have contributed to the boom in Android app downloads, including the diverse range of smartphone and tablet devices offered by a broad range of manufacturers, along with third-party app stores from the likes of Amazon and GetJar. The same fragmentation that seems to be hurting Android when it comes to dethroning Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices actually works in the platform’s favor in terms of app downloads—plus, the platform has a large number of carriers and manufacturers pouring their marketing dollars into Android.

Ovum forecasts that by 2016 Android will lead iOS devices in app downloads by a two-to-one margin—21.8 billion apps compared to 11.6 billion apps. However, Ovum also predicts the iTunes App Store will continue to dominate the market for paid applications. Ovum believes the iTunes Store app-based revenue will read some $2.86 billion by 2016, compared to $1.6 billion for Android.

By 2015, Ovum anticipates WIndows Phone will be the third-place contender for app downloads, overtaking RIM’s BlackBerry platform in both revenue and total downloads.