March 6th, 2016 marks the 4th anniversary of the Google Play Store’s launch. As one of the two largest app store leaders, we’re here to honor the mobile digital distribution platform. We’ll highlight some of Google Play’s key milestones, how it’s affected the development of Android devices and operating systems, and the global app economy as a whole.
Google Play’s Origins: Android Market
March 6th, 2012 isn’t the true birth of Google Play — it’s instead the anniversary of the rebranding and consolidation of several of Google’s products. This included the merger of services like Google Music, Google eBookStore, and most importantly the Android Market, where Android apps were first distributed to consumers and where many of Google Play’s key features began.
The Android Market dates back to 2008. While apps began as strictly free, Google opened paid purchase options within the United States and the United Kingdom in 2009 and even more countries in 2010, providing new revenue opportunities to app developers beyond in-app advertisements.
2011 had several important milestones for the Android Market, starting with the launch of its web version in February. This established some of the user interfaces and aesthetic designs still used on Google Play today.
The Android Market opened on the web in February 2011. Image credit Engadget.
But the biggest addition during 2011 was the introduction of in-app purchase billing, which in the future would create the gateway to the freemium app revenue strategy. By December of that year, the Android Market had over 380,000 apps and 10 billion downloads, with an average growth of 1 billion downloads a month.
The Evolution of Google Play
In 2012 the Android Market merged with Google Music and Google eBookStore and transformed into the Google Play Store. This new branding came just one day after Google announced that the maximum app size would expand from a mere 50MB to over 4GB. These back-to-back changes were likely a key strategy to increase Google Play’s appeal to app developers.
An even greater boon was in May 2012, when in-app subscriptions became available. In today’s global app economy, in-app subscriptions have been successful among entertainment apps, including video- and music-streaming services.
Google Play released in-app subscriptions in May 2012. Image credit Android Developers.
The September 2012 release of Google Play Services would later result in less Android fragmentation and allow Google to more easily update apps and APIs without the need of a new OS. This meant some app developers could still market for consumers who had yet to migrate from Gingerbread / Honeycomb / Ice Cream Sandwich to the then-current Jelly Bean.
By September 2012 Google Play was home to 675,000 apps and 25 billion downloads.
Google Play Takes the World by Storm
Google Play continued to grow and improve in its second year after rebranding. During Q1 2013, Google Play’s worldwide revenue grew 90% over Q4 2012, thanks in part to contributions from Japan, South Korea and the United States — which combined covered 70% of the app store’s revenue. Additionally, the visual design of Google Play had a major update on April 9th, 2013, as it began its transition to what’s now known as Material Design.
The revenue growth may have coincided with Android’s device penetration. By September 2013, worldwide Android device activations surpassed one billion.
From July 2013 to June 2014 the number of Google Play apps grew 60%, totaling more than 1.5 million. This report came just a day before Google I/O 2014, which marked Google’s expansion of Android into new frontiers: wearables, TV and automotive. This opened new opportunities and challenges for app developers looking to turn their existing Google Play experience toward new devices.
Google Play Gives Developers New Advantages
Google Play continued bolstering improvements to app developers and publishers. In February 2015, search ads were added to Google Play, increasing the chance of app discoverability. During Google I/O 2015, a new developer tool, Google Experiments, was unveiled to assist with A/B testing and planning ad campaign strategies. Also during the event, it was announced that new sections of the Google Play Store would be focused on family-friendly apps.
Google Experiments allows app developers to run A/B tests and easily review data of the outcomes.
By September 2015, it was announced that there were now 1.4 billion Android device activations and 1 billion active users. This many active users and devices may have played a part in Google Play’s increased worldwide download growth, widening to 100% over iOS for 2015.
Looking Ahead Toward the Future
2016 has just begun and we’re excited to see what innovations Google Play will bring. In the coming year, Google Play will contribute significantly to the expected $51 billion in gross revenue across all app stores.
By 2017, Android’s wide proliferation will give Google Play and third-party Android stores combined revenue a lead over the iOS App Store. In 2020, the number of downloads is forecast to triple compared to 2015, exceeding over 166.4 billion — mainly from emerging markets.
We’re eager to see how Google Play will continue to grow and improve to meet global developer and consumer demand.
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