(Credit: App Annie)

As we come to the end of 2018, you'll see plenty of list for best apps of the year; Google declared its winners for Android just a few weeks ago, and Apple followed up a day later with its own picks for iOS. But neither company will talk openly about how much money they're actually making through their app stores, despite them both having grown into multi-billion dollar enterprises in which great fortunes are won and lost.

For info on how well apps and their stores are doing from a financial perspective, we usually have to go to third parties. Thankfully, companies like App Annie diligently collect this kind of data all year long, and it's now presented some interesting findings on the subject.

SEE: How to play Fortnite Mobile and win: A guide for beginners

According to their research, global downloads from the Google Play Store and iOS App Store shot up 10 percent compared to 2017, to over 113 billion. Perhaps more interestingly, revenue from those downloads increased at an even faster rate of 20 percent, to over $76 billion. App Annie identified mobile games as the main source of this unexpectedly high spike, followed by subscription revenue from non-gaming apps.

Why Fortnite isn't on the list

However, you won't see Fortnite on the charts in App Annie's report, presumably for one very simple reason: The Android version is not on the Google Play Store. Instead, you must get its installer from the Fortnite's publisher Epic Games and download the game manually, through a process known as sideloading.

Epic's CEO Tim Sweeney said earlier this year that he was not a fan of the 30 percent revenue cut that Apple and Google take on their app stores. The Android operating system offered them a way to offer the download directly, without running afoul of Google.

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The only way to manually install a game on iOS is to go through a process with your iPhone or iPad called jailbreaking, which Apple has adamantly resisted because of the security issues that it exposes.

So on the Android side, Epic partnered with Samsung to debut Fortnite on the Note 9 phablet that came out in September, and Google has been cut out of this particular revenue loop. Epic also followed up recently with the Epic Games Store, where it competes against Steam in the Windows game market. Epic's magic ingredient: a 12 percent revenue cut, instead of Steam's 30 percent.

Furthermore, Epic has indicated that this may be the new home for not just the Android version of Fortnite, but potentially the home of some third-party Android games as well. If they can extend that 12 percent offer to Android game developers as well, App Annie's chart one year from now may look quite different than it does now.

Of course, neither Apple nor Google will sit idly by while Epic starts taking slices of the pie, in which case 2019 should be a very interesting year for the mobile game market.


  • Mobile app market research firm App Annie reported today that global app store downloads for 2018 were up 10 percent versus 2017, and app revenue went up 20 percent. Mobile games and non-gaming subscription fees were identified as the main sources.
  • However, with Epic Games launching its own game store that may include Fortnite and other Android games -- where it promises to take a 12 percent cut instead of the 30 percent cut that Google and Apple take -- the download and revenue charts of 2019 may end up looking very different.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.