What is an App Download?
A download is the process of transferring an app from the app store’s servers to a smartphone or tablet. This process starts when a user clicks the “get app” button in the App Store or the “install” button in the Google Play Store.
Why are Downloads important?
The download is a crucial KPI for every app marketer because it indicates the success of App Store Optimization, and especially of conversion rate optimization. The reason is simple: A download is the result of a decision-making process. When it happens, that means that the metadata on the product page convinced the user that the app is the solution to his problems.
To evaluate the outcome of metadata changes, app owners set the number of downloads in relation to the number of clicks (= product page visitors). This ratio is called conversion rate.
How to measure Downloads
The easiest way to measure the number of downloads are the store’s dashboards.
iOS app owners can see this metric on the Analytics section of iTunes Connect. It is called “App Units”.
The counterpart for Android apps is the Google Developer Console. In the Aquisition Report, the name for this metric is “Installers”.
Downloads and Installs are not the same
It seems logical to think of the download and the install as one combined step in the user journey. The reason for this assumption is that a smartphone or tablet will start installing an app immediately after its download is complete.
But actually, it makes more sense to think of them as two separated processes.
Tracking and Counting
The app stores are the only reliable sources for tracking and counting downloads. And they count them as soon as users hit the “get app” button. So even if the user cancels the process and the download does not finish, the app stores count it anyway.
To track installs, a 3rd party tool is necessary: a tracking tool. Tracking tools are built into an app via an SDK. Because of that technical premise, they can only count an install when the user interacts with the app. Or more precisely, tracking tools counts installs only when the user opens the app for the first time. That also means, that, if installing fails because the device runs out of storage, the install will not be counted.
Besides, the stores and 3rd party tracking tools use different methods of tracking. The app stores count downloads based on individual accounts. For instance, if a user has linked his iTunes account to his iPhone and to his iPad and downloads an app to both devices, the App Store will count only one download.
But 3rd party tools track installs based on device IDs. And as the iPhone and the iPad have different device IDs, a 3rd party tool will track two installs in this case.
For these reasons, the total numbers of downloads and installs for the same app can differ significantly.
As mentioned before, it needs just one user action to trigger a download: a click on the “get app” button.
But for the install, a second action is necessary: The user has to open the app. In other words, the install is a confirmation of the user’s interest in that app.