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Android surpasses iOS in free apps

by Phil Hornshaw

Google’s (GOOG) hard at work to meet Apple’s (AAPL) iOS operating system on even ground, quickly working to match Apple’s best features while maintaining the various strengths Android has to offer, like choice and variety. Now it appears that at in least one respect, the oft-venerated and heavily populous iTunes App Store has been surpassed by its less heavily controlled counterpart.

According to a story from TechCrunch, Android has now surpassed iOS in the number of free apps that are available to users. The information comes from app store analytics firm Distimo, which monitors app numbers across various platforms. Distimo’s findings put Google’s Android Market at 134,342 free apps available for download; iTunes, on the other hand, features 121,845 apps for free.

Those are interesting numbers, and Distimo finds that more than half of apps in the Android Market are available for free, while the ratio of free apps to paid over at Apple is more like one in three. The numbers are also broken up by store but not by platform, so the number of total apps in GetJar’s app store, for example, includes BlackBerry and Palm apps and doesn’t factor into the Android numbers. The Amazon (AMZN) Appstore, a market for Android apps that just came into existence in the last month, also isn’t represented in Distimo’s findings, so it’s possible there are apps in both or either of those locations that are available to Android users as well, but aren’t represented in the free app total.

The Android Market still lags far behind Apple in the total number of apps, however -- Distimo’s category breakdown finds that there are 333,124 iPhone apps available in iTunes, while Android has 206,143. Apple’s iPad apps increased by 12 percent in March, jumping up to 75,755 total apps for the tablet with 34,120 being designed for the iPad only -- putting the total number of available iOS apps up to 367,334. Over in the Android camp, there’s no differentiation between tablet and phone apps yet.

The Android Market saw considerable growth as well, increasing 16 percent in March (compared to 18 percent for iOS when you combine iPad and iPhone, which was actually a decrease). And both platforms are far and away ahead of their nearest competitors, Nokia’s (NOK) Ovi Store (29,920 apps) and Research In Motion’s (RIMM) App World for BlackBerry (26,771 apps).

Android may still be behind iOS in terms of app store quantity, and free apps aren’t exactly a qualitative measure either. But what we are seeing is an influx of developers to Google’s platform as it becomes more and more popular with consumers, and having a broad base of free apps is a great thing for bringing even more people into the Android fold. This means more money, more developers, and better apps. Now Google just needs to guarantee its store’s security.