Closing on Half a Million: Google’s Android App Store Turns 400,000

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Google’s Android Market just passed the 400,000 application mark last weekend, ringing in the New Year by closing the distance to Apple’s App Store, reports Netherlands-based app store stats tracker Distimo. Make that the “total number of active applications worldwide,” a number that’s soared over the past 12 months — Distimo says Android Market hit 200,000 apps in April last year, then surged to 300,000 in August.

That’s about 100,000 apps every four months, a pattern that if continued means Google could reach the Apple App Store’s current figure, 500,000, by May 2012. In fact since it’s taken Apple much longer to reach that number, Android Market’s poised to tie with or bypass Apple’s App Store sometime this year.

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How to account for the growth? Distimo says it’s because of free applications (well, “freemium” anyway, so a mix of free and free-until-you-want-full-access fare), which account for around two-thirds of Android Market’s total apps. In 2011, free apps grew as a percentage of total, rising from 60% in April 2011 to 68% by the close of 2011.

Distimo breaks down pacing, too, which favors Apple at the outset (as the stores are growing through the 100,000 and 200,000 milestones), but shows Android Market growing faster thereafter, needing “only four more months to pass the 300,000 milestone” (versus eight for Apple) and another four months to hit 400,000 (versus seven for Apple).

Not that app store size correlates with sales success or design quality — you won’t find reliable independent metrics for those anywhere. Have you viewed all 500,000 Apple App Store apps? 5,000? 50? On my iPhone 4, the latter’s roughly how many I’ve downloaded and fiddled with, though I actually use maybe half as many, and I assume I’m not the norm (I suspect most people probably download and use fewer still).

So while it’s interesting to watch this “app ecosystem” grow — Distimo adds that the number of active Android Market publishers just hit 100,000, another milestone — the figures don’t have easily mappable significance. More in the mobile app space is too often simply more, and as customers trying to separate the wheat from the chaff (and genuine insight from paid-for user reviews and marketing rhetoric) in the absence of better tools than “top 25” lists, that number’s growth correlates directly with “more work.”

MORE: Report Says Android Market Is Number One Source of Mobile Malware

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham, Google+ or Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.