“Bulk Apps” or Mass Produced Applications have been an increasing problem with Apple’s AppStore for quite some time now. More and more developers are finding that they can “bulk up” their application catalog or portfolio by simply taking a simple template app, applying different data and publishing the application as a totally separate app.
They started out simply as e-books published to the AppStore one book as one application. Usually a book that is in the public domain. Then, actual book publishers saw that iPhone e-books were becoming popular and decided that they would join in and publish their books as e-books. At the time there were a couple of pretty good e-book reader apps out there for publishers to attach to and before you knew it, there were hundreds of e-books in the AppStore.
e-books have become a huge segment of the AppStore comprising over 9,500 titles ranging in price from Free to $20 and more. e-books are an acceptable “bulk” app because Apple gave developers little choice when it came to applications. Sure, you could put 10, 100, even 10,000 books in a single application. However, a book publisher wouldn’t want to because they would have to sell the application for hundreds if not the maximum $999.99.
The real problem started with a new type of application. Location-based apps as well as fan apps. Location-based applications pull data from RSS feeds, flickr, and other sources to create an application that doesn’t require an internet connection to get to the data. A developer pulls the data for a specific region together, creates an application for the AppStore, and published it. Before long, that developer has 100+ apps all using the same code base.
There are currently 71,617 published applications in the AppStore. This number is based on AppShopper.com’s tally. Games comprise the bulk of that number at nearly 20%. e-books take a good 13% and Entertainment another 13%. The rest of the AppStore categories are less than 10% each, the biggest of which is over 7% in the Travel category.
Interestingly, one developer holds just over 13% (that’s equal to all the e-books that are published!) of the 71,617 published applications with a whopping 9,500+ applications. One developer! Brighthouse Labs currently holds the record for the largest collection of applications in the AppStore. Clearly, this is a lucrative business for Brighthouse Labs. It’s probably safe to say that there is more than one person behind this developer. I would even venture to guess that we are talking between 50 to 100 people work for Brighthouse Labs.
Update: Whoops, I don’t know where I came up with 9,500 apps for Brighthouse, that number should be 2,280 which is 3.2% of all the apps published, still an impressive number. 2,280 comes out to about 6 apps a day since the store was opened. Not inconceivable for a one or two developer shop to produce. However, from information garnered from other bulk application developers, it’s probable that Brighthouse employees around 20 or so people to turn out the apps that they do. Consider that Brighthouse didn’t start creating their apps back on July of last year. they have probably been punching out apps for about 8 months which equates to about 10 apps a day, 7 days a week, for 8 months.
Thanks Frank for pointing out my mistake there. I don’t know where the 9,500 came from unless I read the number of e-books as being the number from Brighthouse. I’m leaving the old text in but crossed out to show that I had made the mistake and corrected it.
I would also venture to guess that 95% or more are minimum wage or possibly even “sweat shop” labor that do the bulk of the work, no pun intended. In order for Brighthouse labs to have 9,500+ applications in the store, they would have had to submit to Apple, 24 applications a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year! That’s assuming they started submitting apps the day the AppStore opened!
Brighthouse Labs isn’t the only developer out there creating Bulk apps either. One such developer, Khalid Shaikh, was booted from the AppStore and their privileges to the iPhone development program revoked. At the time, he was the 3rd most prolific developer with over 900 applications published. Apple pulled the developer, not because he was a bulk developer, but because he was publishing copyrighted material in his apps.
Apple made a change to the way developers could sell their wares when they released OS 3.0 not long ago. A new feature called In-App Purchasing allows developers to combine their content into one application and still make money for their separate content. Comixology is taking advantage of this feature with their application “Comics“. Comics is a $0.99 application that allows you to download comics to your iPhone. They have a large collection of comics from 15+ publishers as well as creater-owned titles. There are several comics that are free, but the bulk of the titles cost $0.99. You don’t have to find these titles in the AppStore, you go into the Comics application, find a title you want, and tap a Buy button. You are charged through Apple for the purchase, but no new applications are downloaded to your iPhone/iPod touch. Its downloaded into the Comics application where you can read it at your leisure.
Game developers are taking advantage of this feature to offer new downloadable content for their games like the PS3 and XBOX-360 have done for years. Developers as well as patrons benefit from this since patrons don’t have to buy whole new applications for 3-5 times the price and the new content doesn’t take up extra space on their device. Developers benefit since they don’t have to charge 3-5 times the price which makes the content that more appealing to patrons.
The problem though, and the reason for the headline to this article, is that Apple should have thought of this before opening up the AppStore to developers back in 2008. Now, to be fair, no one predicted the rise of bulk apps back in 2008, so it’s hardly fair to blame Apple for this. However, if Apple had given developers the ability for In-App purchasing back in 2008, would we be seeing the Bulk application problem we are seeing today?