The average iOS app increased in size by 16 percent, to 23 megabytes, between March and September of 2012, according to a report released Tuesday by technology research firm ABI Research. The release of the third generation iPad with its Retina display, which allows for far more detailed graphical elements in applications, and Apple’s decision to increase the over-the-air app store download limit from 20 megabytes to 50 megabytes both contributed to the steady increase in iOS app size.
Looking specifically at iOS games, the increase in size has been even larger. The average size of an iOS game was 60 megabytes in September, an increase of 42 percent over the average March size of roughly 42 megabytes.
“Apple’s decision in March to increase the maximum size of 3G/4G-downloadable apps from 20MBs to 50MBs has clearly had an unleashing effect on developers. Their games can now be more complex and graphically polished, while still being able to benefit from the instant gratification of cellular downloads,” Aapo Markkanen, senior analyst for ABI Research, wrote in the report.
While larger app sizes often correlate to improved user experiences, they also pose a threat to limited device capacity. Apple in particular favors the use of Universal applications by developers, in which the graphical elements and code for iOS devices of all sizes is included in a single file. This approach makes it convenient for consumers with multiple devices, such as an fourth-generation 3.5-inch display iPod touch, 4-inch display iPhone 5, and 9.7-inch Retina display iPad, in that only a single application needs to be purchased and downloaded to accommodate all devices.
The drawback, however, is that users with only one of the above-mentioned devices will see some of their capacity consumed by the app’s inclusion of code and graphics that are unnecessary for their device. For its part, Apple has pushed its free iCloud service as a partial solution to this problem, allowing users to delete and re-download apps as necessary.
“Especially the consumers with 16GB devices are likely to become more conscious about what apps to keep and what to uninstall, so the developers’ bar to impress will be getting even higher than it is now. This could also speed up the adoption of the mobile cloud as a storage remedy quite significantly,” Mr. Markkanen predicted.
Apple is holding a media event next Tuesday, October 23. The company is widely expected to introduce an “iPad mini” and some speculate that the entry-level model will be available in capacities as low as 8 gigabytes, compared to the current 9.7-inch iPad’s entry level capacity of 16 gigabytes.
Assuming that the introduction of a 7.85-inch “iPad mini” is accurate, Apple’s iOS will soon have support for six resolution sizes: 3.5-inch non-retina iPod touch and iPhone, 3.5-inch Retina iPod touch and iPhone, 4-inch Retina iPod touch and iPhone, 9.7-inch non-Retina iPad, 9.7-inch Retina iPad, and 7.85-inch “iPad mini.”
Although iOS code has become increasingly efficient as developers create Universal apps, the different non-vector graphical elements that are required indicate that app sizes should continue to increase, and it is unclear if Apple plans to address this situation, with a deeper solution than iCloud, for those with lower capacity devices.
The Mac Observer will be on site for live coverage of Apple’s event next Tuesday.