The top app publishers of 2016 (so far)

By Abhinav Agrawal

Using data from SurveyMonkey Intelligence, we’re identifying in this post the 25 top app publishers who dominate the mobile market in the U.S. in 2016 to uncover insights and trends behind their success.

To get beyond the hype of downloads, we measured each publisher’s popularity by the number of unique active users that used any of the publisher’s apps within the course of a month.

The 25 top app publishers in the U.S.

With millions of apps competing for a mobile user’s attention, competing on the Apple and Google app stores is a daunting proposition for any company. Here are the top 25 mobile app publishers that have managed to build products that stand out from the crowd.

What we learned from the top mobile app publishers

Google and Facebook are the duopolies of mobile

Google and Facebook are the two giants of mobile with over 90% audience penetration in the United States. Facebook’s latest quarterly results show the extent of the transition to mobile with the vast majority of its revenue now coming from mobile.

Apple suffers from refusal to make apps for Android

While Apple is #3 on the list and its apps like Music, FaceTime, and Maps have near-universal usage on Apple devices, its refusal to make any applications for Android has hurt its total penetration. Google, on the other hand, despite Android, has no compunctions about making numerous apps like Google Maps, YouTube, and Gmail for iOS.

Snapchat is a mobile giant and far ahead of other social players like Kik

It may have started out as a niche app for teens, but Snapchat is now a mobile giant and the fourth-largest mobile publisher in the United States. While another teen-focussed messaging publisher, Kik, makes it to the list, Snapchat is much larger than its direct competition. No wonder Facebook is obsessed with buying or emulating Snapchat (e.g., with Instagram stories).

Amazon dominates e-commerce apps, with eBay a distant second

Americans like to shop, and Amazon is their preferred mobile retailer. It ranks an impressive #5 on the list of most-popular publishers with a well-balanced portfolio including Kindle, IMDB, Twitch, Audible, and Amazon Video in addition its the core shopping app. eBay, the only other e-commerce player on the list, is far behind. Perhaps with the acquisition of Jet, Walmart will be better-positioned to take on Amazon.

Pokemon Go propelled Niantic from nowhere to largest mobile game publisher

In just a month, PokemonGo’s craze has catapulted Niantic–the spinoff from Google that licensed Pokemon from Nintendo to make Pokemon Go–to #6 on the list of app publishers. While it had a released a few previous games like Ingress and FieldTrip, its rank in the top ten is driven solely by Pokemon Go.

There is no greater motivation to work on mobile than realizing that the scale and relative openness of the mobile platforms allows anyone to build a company that takes over the world. A few months ago, relatively few people had heard of Niantic and its CEO John Hanke. Now he’s the talk of town.

Microsoft?? Yes, Microsoft

If asked to list the top ten companies in mobile, very few people would put Microsoft on the list. Despite early innovations with Windows Phone and the acquisition of Nokia, the Seattle giant floundered on mobile after surviving the Internet tsunami.

However, through a series of large acquisitions (e.g., Accompli which became Microsoft Outlook, Skype, and Minecraft), Microsoft is now a top 10 mobile publisher. It’s hard at work ensuring that its homegrown suite of mobile apps (30+ at last count) also grow and climb the charts.

Twitter, despite struggles, is part of an elite group of mobile publishers

The struggles of the micro-blogging service are well-documented and almost lore in Silicon Valley. However, Twitter remains part of the elite top ten app publisher club. The core product is the main driver of audience success with Vine and Periscope mobile apps having significantly smaller audiences.

Verizon is buying a top mobile publisher in Yahoo

Yahoo may not be a top ten publisher (just outside at #11) and its mobile assets may have decayed over time, but the combination of Yahoo Mail and Tumblr still gives Yahoo (and its acquirer Verizon) heft on mobile. Marissa Mayer’s efforts to develop additional mobile properties may have failed but the acquisition of mail products and well-timed acquisition of Tumblr have kept Yahoo relevant on mobile.

Netflix a surprise on smartphones

One expects long-form video watching to happen mostly on tablets, computers or TVs. Despite that, Netflix is a top publisher on mobile and has now weathered two disruptions successfully (DVDs to streaming, web to mobile).

Mobile gaming companies weaker than expected

One would expect more gaming companies on the list, given their dominance of the free downloads and grossing charts on mobile. However, illustrating the hits-driven nature of the industry, there are far fewer gaming companies on the list than expected. Apart from Niantic (driven by Pokemon Go), King, Zynga, and Electronic Arts are clustered together at the bottom of the list.

Even companies focused only on Android crack this list

If you use an Apple device, you have probably never heard of LIONMOBI. The publisher, based out of Asia, focuses only on Android and makes a set of simple utility apps to protect and optimize your Android phone. The apps, while simple, are enormously useful for Android users where some of these capabilities are not built into the OS.

Many companies with single apps make the list!

There are several companies on this list(Snapchat, Kik, Pandora, Spotify, Pinterest, Netflix) that only have a single mobile app in the app stores. You don’t have to publish a ton of apps to be successful if you focus on the right one!

This post originally appeared on September 1, 2016 on the blog of SurveyMonkey Intelligence, a provider of competitive intelligence for the mobile app industry.

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