23 October 2016
A mainland hacker revealed how it is possible to manipulate the rankings of apps on app distribution platforms. Photo: Internet
A mainland hacker revealed how it is possible to manipulate the rankings of apps on app distribution platforms. Photo: Internet

Why many apps don’t survive the first year

Working in the application software industry may sound cool, but the fact is many apps never make it to a launch.

And those that enjoy a successful roll-out have a lifespan of only 10 months on average, mobile app service provider said in a report about China’s app industry.

The survival rate of apps after this period is an extremely low 5 percent.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of new apps are launched each year.

A study by iResearch Consulting Group found there are now more than four million different apps in the mainland market.

However, about 80 percent, or 3.2 million, of them are considered to be “zombie apps”.

The term is used to describe an app that doesn’t get enough attention to regularly receive popularity rankings.

In other words, these apps exist in the app stores but may never be discovered or used.

For every 100 apps that are classified as zombie apps, 35 are in the social networking category.

So, social apps have the highest probability of dropping dead after a certain amount of time.

Zombie apps are not unique to China, but the situation is the most serious in the mainland.


Extremely high promotion costs, especially in the mainland, is normally the cause of an app’s death, the National Business Daily said.

App development is capital intensive, meaning you have to spend a lot before seeing any returns.

Research, app development, trial and enhancement, they all cost dearly.

However, the nightmare has just begun, because developers have to keep burning large sums of cash to get the market’s attention.

Consider this: if you are looking for a photo app to edit your snapshots, with tons of apps out there, which one would you pick?

Most likely one that has a high ranking and gets good reviews, right?

So, to get more exposure for their apps, mainland app developers with substantial resources will spend a lot hiring people to manipulate the rankings by downloading, installing and uninstalling specific apps repeatedly, 24/7.

You can easily find companies on the e-commerce site Taobao that specifically advertise such services.

Developers who want to get their apps into the top 10 free apps list for one day are looking at a charge of 70,000 yuan (US$11,300). To stay there for a week, they will need to shell out 405,000 yuan in total.

The practice is dirty, but it is an open secret within the industry.

Companies with less resources, however, find it hard to join this game.

In this case, these app developers may try to promote their apps in other ways, including cooperating with app distribution channels.

As some of these channels have established their brand and achieved popularity among mobile internet users, they are able to push selected apps to users.

There are two main app stores in the world of mobile devices: Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

The App Store is accessible by mainland customers, but Google Play is officially banned in China.

That’s why third-party app distribution platforms thrive.

However, getting their apps on these platforms can still cost app developers an arm and a leg.

The distribution channels charge a commission of 30-50 percent of the app developer’s revenue, no matter whether it is generated from advertising or directly from users, the National Business Daily said.

Of course, money is not the only problem.

Many apps die young because they all look the same, or because the developers fail to constantly upgrade them to keep users interested.

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EJ Insight writer

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