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Ask HN: Has anyone made any serious money selling Android apps?

A lot of saas success stories here ger posted often but I seldom see any success stories about someone making any serious money from apps, especially android apps.

Is it very hard to do that, especially with the play store tax? Or am I being a pessimist.

Please share your success (or failure) so we can all get some motivation (or reality check)

  • 147 points
  • 12 days ago

  • @ghoomketu
  • Created a post

Ask HN: Has anyone made any serious money selling Android apps?


@Torwald 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

You ask: "Is it very hard to do that" which is a bit ambiguous as a question.

But here are some tips for starters:

- Pick a niche for your app that is very nerdy, don't do something mainstream, that would make too mayn people interested in your offering.

- Do not have a website or a youtube channel that helps people use your app. obscurity is absolutely crucial for your Android apps business success.

- Please pick a very cheap price with a crummy number like, say, $4,97 to evaporate your margins.

- Understand that consumers hate pretty icons and nicely animated user interfaces. Your app has to look like a Linux desktop of a guy, who feels most comfortable to be in terminal all day.

- Please make the billing process a PITA, otherwise things would be too easy! Better yet, make sure I can't even buy your app in most countries!

- Don't invest in graphics! Make the app icon ugly und undiscernable!

- Likewise, don't think about marketing. It is important that you just upload the app and let the app store do it's magic! It works 100%!

- Make sure you have no customer support. If you have good customer support, that could build trust and drive sales, something we do not want if we want to be successful.

- Lastly, let's make sure you disrespect quality programmers. Buy cheap code from a third world country! The delivered software architecture that breaks with every OS update and additional bag of bugs will be a constant maintenance nightmare. And after all, we want to have dreams, right?

- Oh, and don't make the app useful. Make it a gimmick that nobody really needs!

Keep the above in mind and surely, becoming a millionaire garage style with programming Android apps will be a peace of cake!

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@iasay 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

The money in the app market is making apps for other people who think they're going to get serious money. Or rarely are fronting an existing application and have a stable customer base already.

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@napolux 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

My experience on iOS: even with an app featured by apple I didn't made much (around 100$/month before fading away). The app was a paid app with IAP. Then moved to freemium... Still no success. Other apps I've made were always around 5$ per month.

I strongly believe that the "non-gaming" app business is flawed. Or you offer a superb app for peanuts (e.g. Procreate is wonderful, but I paid it 10$, and it's worth way more IMHO) or you trick people with subscriptions which are really sketchy to me.

Games are a different story btw.

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@threeseed 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

> especially with the play store tax

It's the cost of the acquisition channel not a tax. And if you want to build a successful business then you better understand the difference.

Because these days you will likely need to pay for other channels as well e.g. SEO, Paid Ads, Referral, Influencer etc. And the challenge is how you can afford this when your app is only a few dollars.

Which is why most newer startups are doing free apps with a subscription add-on.

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@ilrwbwrkhv 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I know 2 solo devs making over 500k per month with apps. Highly niched and competitive space though so you won't really hear much from them.

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@danamit 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I had an income of 2-3k monthly from Facebook apps back in 2010s. I do not advice apps since you are at the mercy of the platform and their policies.

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@robgering 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

This isn't exactly what you're asking, but consultancies that produce mobile apps on behalf of clients can see significant revenue. This is particularly true for apps that require user-to-user interaction or other functionality requiring a decent amount of backend code.

Unlike websites, which are largely commoditized by big players, custom apps still fetch large sums. The pros in this space charge project-based (or at least per diem) rates, so you'll need to be good at estimating your work.

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@brandonb 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I helped build an app that does ~$1m in annual revenue, and 75+% of revenue came from iPhone. That ratio seems to be in line with global stats on app store revenue, which show $72.3B of total revenue for the Apple App Store compared to $38.6 for Google Play: https://webtribunal.net/blog/app-revenue-statistics/#gref

Apps are a hits-driven industry. The top apps generate about $82,500 per day but only 0.01% of apps make money.

IMO, the Play Store tax isn't a huge deal. They've lowered their take from 30% to to 15%: https://support.google.com/googleplay/android-developer/answ....

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@ageitgey 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

In my experience, the time to make money selling mobile apps was 2008-2012 or so. The market is totally different now.

In my opinion, has never been harder to make money charging money for apps:

- Competition is huge (including underhanded competition that will clone any successful app instantly)

- Customer appetite to pay for "apps" is near zero. Customers don't even want to download more apps, let alone pay money for them.

- Programs like Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass have further eroded the idea of paying for apps

- Ad-driven trash apps and poor app store ranking/discoverability have further driven consumers away from trying new apps in app stores

Of course lots of successful businesses use apps as part of their business model. But very few are making money from selling the app itself unless they have a really good niche figured out.

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@terpimost 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

We did a cool game. Realized that it is impossible to market to profit. No ads https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.livetyping... Unfortunately Apple removed it from app store due to some stupid reason.

I think if your app isn’t a huge investment/hit and you are committing to long term support it (subscription) there is no way you can make good money.

Hyper casual games are huge investments since they got good metrics (takes time and budget to achieve such) and publishers are pouring money on them.

So if its not an app/service with subscription and its not subscription based game and its not hyper casual hit with a big publisher behind… it is got to be a good game like here https://noodlecake.com/games/. But if its a good game you probably are about Steam/Nintendo/Xbox/PS

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@ghoomketu 10 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Hey guys.. Just wanted to say a big thanks for all your replies. I was exploring developing an android app but after reading all these comments I'd rather stick to good old saas for now.

edit: Maybe i'll add an app to grow my saas than think of money making from selling apps insted.

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@GTP 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

A friend of mine made some money with Android games. I don't know how much, but enough to buy a new car and rent an apartment.

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@Ologn 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

In 2011 I had a discussion with an Android programmer who told me about a throw off but popular app he and others had written, and how much they had made with the ads they put on it (in my recollection it was hundreds of dollars at that point). That was motivating, but also put the idea in my head to go with ads, not pay apps. I made a little money in 2011, but in 2012 I started making better money. Admob ads only shows me back to September 2013 right now - from December 2013 to March 2014 I had a free book app that showed over $2000 a month in ads. It sometimes dipped but made over $2000 in January 2015 as well. I don't have access to all the revenue I made at the moment, but had a few apps reaching hundreds of dollars a month, whereas the book app could break $2000 a month.

I had an idea of all expenses coming from revenues, so other than the initial $25 to Google and my time, all expenses came out of revenues. Initially all apps were on-phone with no backend. Initially I showed ads but did not run ads to advertise my apps. Initially I used the emulator and not a real phone. As I made money I bought a used Android device on Ebay (less than $100 with shipping), paid $10 a month for a backend web site (paying more later) and started advertising my apps, especially new apps, or new markets for old ones. It would probably be hard to have a successful app without advertising it to kick it off nowadays.

In 2016 I started writing an app to get free wallpapers, which I wrote a series of blog posts about here - http://www.vartmp.com/dev/wallpapers.html (I have it on my todo list to make that old site https in the coming months, it's easy enough to do but low priority). A link to the app is on that page.

Actually there is a blog post to be written of August 3rd 2018 to spring 2019 of fixing up Kotlin code (which I was less familiar with then) and other things. Aside from watching the backend server stayed up I basically abandoned the app since spring 2019 since I was busy with work and did not advertise it - and that is when it finally started making money. It made $192 in September 2019 and over $240 a month from March to May 2020. Since August 2020 it has made over $50 each month without any ads or anything from my end, so it pays for its own backend hosting, domain name registration and so forth.

My day job is working on an Android app for a large company. Over one million dollars a day in revenue goes over the app for the company I work for.

I did my side apps while I was taking college classes and was not focused on a good-paying, full-time, non-contracting SWE job as much, which I am doing now. Aside from monitoring the backend server is up, I have basically abandoned my side apps since contracting and then being hired by my current company, as my TC dwarfs what I made on my side apps while taking more college courses (although making over $2000 a month on my side apps while taking college courses worked for me). The Wallpapers app I released over three years ago still brings in over $50 a month, with no effort at all (aside from the very minimal effort of monitoring its server is up) from me.

Insofar as advice - for making money I favor ad-based apps over paid apps. The barrier to adoption are lower, less worries about piracy, and also you may not have a success until your second or third or fourth (etc.) app - I program Android full time and still haven't fully wrapped my head around things with a stable release from last year like Hilt and Compose, so there will probably be a learning curve for people less experienced.

I would also advise on focusing on big markets over niche markets. There's more competition but it's harder to make money in most niche markets.

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@doix 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

During the very early days of Android (2010, I think) I made some terrible arcade games. They made about 100$ a month from ads and I sold the rights for distribution in Korea for 600$ a game to a company that no longer exists (ubi-nuri). Live wallpapers became a thing at some point, and I sold some procedure generated garbage for $0.99. I think I made somewhere between 3-4k GBP out of the whole thing.

Then the market got very competitive, the "recently updated" section was removed and everything died immediately for me. I have no idea how you would get users now without an advertising budget.

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@marban 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Co-created the very first Twitter client even before the first physical device or an official app was available.

Got acquired by Idealab around ~2010 + Made a decent income from a Pro version before that. Left the industry for all the reasons mentioned in other comments (and wouldn't go back).

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@nathias 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Google

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@asfarley 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I made a turn-counting app for traffic surveys. It’s basically a button-press counter. I needed it for my own use, and there was already one on the market for about $35 so I decided to reimplement it myself and sell it for $2. So far I have made about $88 although I have not gotten a payout.

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@zorr 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Around 2012-2013 (I think) I had an app where I had reverse engineered the Omnifocus sync protocol so you could "use Omnifocus" on an Android phone. After experimenting with pricing a bit I think I left it at $20 and consistently had a few sales per day for months. I have received zero complaints about the price. It was a simple one-off transaction for an app that solved one specific problem well.

It wasn't serious money but a nice addition to my salary at the time. I highly doubt a price point like this can still be done in the current app environment.

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@anm89 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

My friend makes about $300k a year on a fitness app. I can tell you it's not a get rich quick scheme. It has taken him years to build up and he was a talented programmer who probably could have made that same money at FAANG.

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@giantg2 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Nope. I tried monetizing one, but it was never that popular to begin with. So I made it free like my other one.

I wish I was making money like these other commenters. I think that's very rare though.

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@porbelm 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Bertheussen IT, the company (one guy) behind Wordfeud, made millions. $20 million ish over a few years actually.

https://proff.no/selskap/bertheussen-it-as/trondheim/datapro...

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@hnthrowaway0315 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Only worked in mobile gaming industry. Nowadays it's even difficult for professional companies to push out profitable mobile games. One company I know about tried a couple of years, made a couple of failed games and closed door eventually.

I'd argue nowadays it's extremely difficult for individuals to create profitable Android games. The majority of the games are those driven by micro-transaction and/or ads and individuals simply cannot compete with professionals. On the other side, it might be possible to target a niche market and grab a few hundred/thousand bucks. For example the guy who made Wizardry clones definitely sold a few hundred copies.

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@aaaaaaaaata 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Build a PWA.

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@ryandvm 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I made about $5K selling a live wallpaper that showed local weather radar. I originally just made it for myself, but then decided to release it on the app store.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.appidio.ra...

I never marketed it properly though and so the bottom fell out of my sales to the point that I was making almost nothing from it, so I made it free.

That was project that taught me that marketing is more important than technical achievement.

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@WA 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Every popular and useful app that also has an Android-version (Runtastic, Komoot, training apps, health apps) will have significant revenue coming from Android users in Europe, because the market share of Android in Europe is 70%.

Yes, iOS users pay more easily for smaller apps (think special Camera apps), but if you create an app that provides value on a daily basis with a subscription model, you also make money on Android.

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@andix 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

The Google Play Store shows you an approximate number of installs. Check out some apps and multiply it with the price, then you have a rough estimate what people made with the app.

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@kbridger3 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

It is still generally harder to make serious money from apps but possible.

Also, games are very different than Apps. People are more willing to spend money on entertainment than apps. Some exceptions are dating, health, finance though.

Back in 2014 and 2015, I launched an app on windows phone and android respectively. They both made a few thousand within a couple of months. I discontinued them, but mostly because the competition on Android was too much and I was unsure about the product strategy going forward. Fast-forward years later, and several of those competitors also shut down, leaving room for other apps in that space to grow and take more marketshare. I really think you have to just keep at it.

I actually think Apps were difficult to make money from years ago but that was because several factors such as competition, consumer spending habits, lack of incentives from iOS/play stores.

Now, I think things are a bit different:

1. Fewer apps as the tech sector has shifted to more cutting edge tech like crypto, etc.

2. Quality of apps have gone up

3. In-App purchases are very common as are Subscription models

4. People are more willing to spend on IAP and have gotten used to subscriptions

5. Stores have reduced taxes to %15 in some cases

6. People are using fewer apps these days, no more app explosion.

But basically, you're app has to be high-quality and useful. Also, the main drivers for app installs are still the app stores themselves, so you have to optimize for the app store. Look into ASO ( app store optimization ). Also, expect to take a long-time to build up your audience. I'm attempting to launch a new app now, and going through this process.

Regarding ios vs android, it's easier to make revenue on iOS for sure, but again, if your app is high-quality and useful i'm not sure it makes a big difference.

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@j_4 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Are you interested in games as well?

I recently released my first game on Android, very much a commercial endeavor but with a model that I somewhat expected too friendly for its own good - ad-free demo, single IAP for the full game. It made $10k over the first month and so far it seems to be still accelerating. I'm yet to release on iOS, I expected the Android port to be a drop in the bucket but this is going to go a long way in sustaining me as an indie game dev.

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@yccheok 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

It is still possible. I have been doing so for a few years, by focusing on single note taking app

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.yocto.weno...

Here's my take :-

1) Just like in other businesses, it is a competitive market.

2) However, it is also full of limitless opportunities. Google Play store helps you to reach worldwide end consumers. Only a few channels can do that with a frictionless payment system. Google Play store is one of them.

3) Since it is a highly competitive market, you need to know your niche and know who your targetted customers are very well. Then, we provide a solid solution to fit customer needs.

4) Play store tax is not a concern. Once you publish the app, the only main concern is how to market the app and how to pitch the app so that consumers will choose your app over the others.

5) With some luck, one will hit overnight success. But, the chance is rare. Most of the time, we need to invest a lot of resources, and success is not guaranteed.

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@bmalicoat 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I put a recent game out on both Android and iOS (https://www.downwordly.com/). Admittedly it isn't apples to apples because the game modes and pricing models differ^. That said, iOS has made 10x more for me. Most of that is probably attributed to being Game of the Day and featuring in the word games section on iOS.

^iOS uses GameCenter for turn based multiplayer so a $2.99 IAP unlocks unlimited concurrent multiplayer games and some other modes, whereas Android is not free to play and instead is just $.99 to buy, but with no multiplayer. Probably way too many variables to provide any meaningful conclusions on the Play Store!

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@mooktakim 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I think the money is to build apps for others and not for yourself. You can charge a good day rate.

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@urthor 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Know a few.

They were all gambling.

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@desmondmcnamee 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I have a gym logging app that’s currently making about $20k/month on Android. I think fitness is a bit of a unique market because, in my experience, people are more willing to spend money on it compared to other types of software. Last I checked we’re in the top 5 apps on the play store for our niche.

https://www.hevyapp.com

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@sgt 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Selling Android apps is really hard. I haven't met any indie Android developer able to make a decent buck (or anything at all). Rather focus on iOS development if you want to actually make a profit.

This is well known in the industry and a bit sad if you enjoy Android, but that's how it is and it has many reasons, such as user behavior.

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@mdavis6890 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I really want an app-store filter for paid/free apps, where I can filter OUT the free apps. Anyone else?

I feel like a big part of the problem is that the entire space is filled with junky 'free' apps, and getting to something high-quality is difficult. And so we're trained not to value apps because they're awful, and therefore not worth paying for anyway. A vicious cycle.

If the apps are reasonable quality and solve a problem, what's $5 or even $10? Many people spend around that for a cup of coffee that will be gone in 30min. I'd happily pay that for a good app - if only I could find one.

I'd LOVE to see super-cheap subscriptions too - like maybe ten cents or even less per month. This solves another issue: Once a dev has gotten most of the one-off sales they can, there's not much incentive to maintain the app. A subscription model is much better for this, but for most simple utility apps it needs to be very cheap.

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@cwoolfe 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Android and iOS app developer speaking. If you've got Android development skills, the easiest money would be to get a normal job with a normal company developing their app. If you're interested in long-term gains, invest 50% of your salary into index funds. They are are currently offered at a big discount because we're in a recession!

Most of the mobile industry is normal companies who need developers for their app, in the same way they need developers for their website. The image of the lone app developer making some passion-project app and posting it up on the store to sell for millions gained some popularity because it's so inspirational, but that's not how most app developers make money, especially in 2022. The market is over-saturated.

If you are more interested in a risky passion-project than a normal job, then the emerging market of VR gaming apps on Oculus still shows some promise.

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@Humdeee 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

I've built and maintained a small series of iOS apps since early 2015 to learn Swift at the time. My latest release was 2020 and they're all quite simplistic functionally, albeit filling a niche. Monthly proceeds vary around $800-1500 now and I'm approaching the lifetime proceeds of $30k. I have no clue what the Android environment would be like now, but likely not as successful.

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@moneywoes 12 days

Replying to @ghoomketu 🎙

Is app store SEO not very difficult? I feel maybe the Apple app store has more potential as there are more paying customers

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