Apple’s App Store download figures decline: Has it clamped down on “bot farms” or has the iPhone 4S lost its sheen?

iphone-appsApp marketing firm Fiksu has released data showing the amount of downloads made from the Apple App Store during March, revealing a significant drop of nearly two million downloads per day, from 6.35 million in February to 4.45 million in March, after a peak of 6.79 million in January.

These figures relate only to the top 200 apps listed on the US App Store, and don’t refer to the store’s download figures as a whole. According to its long-term performance chart, these download numbers were last seen between September and October last year, or just before the iPhone 4S was announced.

Fiksu says the drop was to be expected, given the iPhone 4S’s release right before the advertising blitz that comes with the Christmas holiday season, but would this account for a 30-percent drop in just four weeks?

Fiksu App Store Download Data

Download bots.

One alternative explanation is that Apple has cracked down on so-called “bot farms,” where particular apps are automatically downloaded over a set period by an extensive network of computers, with the express intention of pushing them up the iTunes charts.

A recent report revealed one dubious marketing firm was offering developers such a service for $5,000, and boasted that 8 out of the top 20 free apps had been “assisted” by them already.

GTekna, a marketing firm suspected of using similar tactics, says on its website that apps it promotes make it into the top 25 free apps chart in less than two days, which requires at least 60,000 downloads. It will only promote free apps. Developers who’ve used GTekna’s services told they saw “no active usage” data from the downloads.

Already aware of the problem, Apple issued a warning to developers in early February, saying any “manipulation of App Store chart rankings or user reviews, or employing services that do so on your behalf may result in the loss of your Apple Developer Program membership.”

Since Fiksu’s data exclusively covers the top 200 apps, could Apple have put some of the bot farms out of business, and what we’re now seeing are more accurate download figures?

ComScore Device Growth DataiPhone 4S

Another possible reason for the drop in downloads is that the iPhone 4S has lost some of its sheen. Introduced in October last year, externally it’s the same as the iPhone 4, which was introduced more than a year before that. Have new iPhone owners become a little bored of their new toys?

ComScore has released some figures which could back this theory up, as iOS gained an additional 1.1-percent more users between December 2011 and March 2012, while Android attracted 3.7-percent more over the same period.

Obviously Apple isn’t hurting here, but the lack of an exciting new iPhone in the sea of new Android devices may not be doing them much good.

The research also showed that app downloads across the board rose by 2.7-percent between December and March.

Looking at the iTunes top 200 free apps today, there certainly appears to be fewer odd or unusual entries, particularly in the top 25, so perhaps Apple has leveled the playing field when it comes to app discovery; and that bot farming was a much bigger problem than imagined.