August 6, 2014

Four Years in Apple’s Ecosystem: An Expenses Report

By late 2009, when carriers and official retailers began selling the iPhone here in Israel, I was already an owner: My father had gotten me the original model a few months after it came out in 2007. I can get reminiscential here, but there’s a lot to cover in this piece as it is. I’ll only say that like many others, I never imagined the iPhone would become such an elementary object in my life. As of today, I own an iPhone 5S, a first-gen iPad mini, and a beefed-up 13’’ MacBook Pro (2013 model).

My first iTunes receipt dates back to July 7, 2010. Apple’s App Store launched in July 2008, so I can think of two reasons for why I’ve only bought my first app two years later:

  1. I’m pretty sure that like the iPhone, Apple’s App Store became available in Israel only at a later date. No matter how I phrased my search queries though, I couldn’t corroborate this, so I might be misremembering.

  2. Since getting my first iPhone, I’ve left iOS for two, separate and brief periods: The first time was to try a phone with a real, physical keyboard. Remember those? Anyway, it was the less-than-horrible Nokia N97. Later, in mid-2010, I wanted to find out what the Blackberry craze was all about — fittingly, after the craze had already died — so I got myself a BlackBerry Bold. If you haven’t closed this page yet, things only get better from here..

The primary goal behind this compilation was to become more familiar with Apple’s Numbers, to satisfy my growing interest in statistics, and learn more about data visualization. See, my lifelong mission is to one day become half as good as Horace Dediu. I guess it doesn’t hurt to also have my Apple related expenses in check, but that’s just collateral mental damage.

I know for a fact that even with this statistically meaningless set of data, I’ve done some mistakes and missed some key points, so I’m happy to hear from you (via email or Twitter) and improve it after it’s published. I am aware this data is anecdotal by nature. I’m also aware that becoming half as awesome as Horace is quite a challenge.

Behind The Scenes

  • I’m not a statistician, but I’ve tried my best to balance between too little and too much filtering, and to control for the right variables. The following metadata were given to each purchase:

    • Date: From July 7, 2010 until July 3, 2014
    • Category: Productivity1, Games, Content, Music
    • Price: USD and NIS (local currency in Israel)
    • Type: iOS, OS X, Music & Content
    • Special: For in-app purchases and gifts
    • USD/NIS exchange rate at time of purchase (where applies)
    • Installed: Yes, No (iOS only)
    • Of Installed, used weekly: Yes, No (iOS only)
    • Store: Apple App Store, Paypal, or Other
  • Where it made sense, Music & Content were excluded. The same goes for gifts, which — for example — shouldn’t be counted when usage metrics are plotted.

  • To my surprise, there was no easy way to export all iTunes & App Store purchases to a spreadsheet. So yes, I’ve gone through 90 e-mail receipts that contained 126 purchases, adding the above metadata to each individual purchase.

  • Like many non-US customers, I actually end up paying more for each purchase that I make. This is because Apple does not (and perhaps cannot) adjust for the constantly fluctuating exchange rates. I ignored this fact to keep things comparable and tidy, but mainly for my own sanity.

  • All numbers current through July 3, 2014.

  • Where I specify app prices, the amount listed is the one I’ve paid and not necessarily the current price.

  • I’ve owned every iPhone since the original came out. Looking at the first app purchase for iPad, I can confidently say that my first iPad (an iPad 2) was purchased on the 25th of July, 2011. I got my first MacBook on November 5, 2013.

  • Added August 10, 2014: The iTunes Store for music and movies launched in Israel on December 2, 2012.

  • This post may render awkwardly in your RSS reader. If that’s the case, click here to read it on the website.

The Numbers

Running Total of All Purchases

App Purchases Timeline

Since July 7, 2010, I’ve spent a total of $740 on 126 purchases. Of those purchases, 14 were In-App purchases (IAPs) and 4 were gifts. You can see a sharp increase in expenses that starts the day I bought my first MacBook.

Here’s a purchase-by-purchase chart:

OS X vs. iOS

Obviously Mac apps are more expensive, so despite the fact I’ve been a Mac owner for only 8 out of the considered 48 months, OS X apps already account for 55% of my total purchases:

App Purchases & Expenses (OS X vs. iOS)


Average iOS (92) OS X (20) All* (126)
Mean $3.41 $19.49 $5.88
Median $2.99 $9.99 $2.99
Mode $0.99 $9.99 $0.99
*Includes 14 music & content purchases

By Category

Here’s the breakdown by category:

Category Avg. Price # of Apps % of Apps Total Cost % of Cost
Productivity $7.59 78 62% $592.18 80%
Games $3.28 34 27% $111.66 15%
Music & Content $2.61 14 11% $36.56 5%

By Category, iOS Only

Here it made sense to breakdown iOS only purchases, since 100% of my purchases for the Mac have been non-games:

Category Avg. Price # of Apps % of Apps Total Cost % of Cost
Productivity $3.49 58 63% $202.42 64%
Games $3.28 34 37% $111.66 36%

iOS Price Groups

Of the 126 purchases that I’ve made 26 (28%) have cost me $0.99, making it the most common (or mode) price. The next most common price is $4.99, which appeared 18 times (20%) in my Numbers sheet, and have cost me a total of $89.82, thus making it the highest grossing price tag”. Here’s the table for price groups (iOS only):

Price Group # of Apps % of Apps Total Cost % of Cost
$0.99 26 28% $25.74 8%
$1.99 13 14% $25.87 8%
$2.99 17 18% $50.83 16%
$3.99 5 5% $19.95 6%
$4.99 18 20% $89.82 29%
$5.99 2 2% $11.98 4%
$6.99 6 7% $41.94 13%
$7.99 1 1% $7.99 3%
$9.99 4 4% $39.96 13%

iOS Usage Analysis

One of the most interesting metrics to me was the ratio between installed and non-installed apps. Since the incentive to delete (or not re-download) unused apps is much bigger in iOS due to capacity and screen real estate considerations, it would’ve made very little sense to include Mac purchases:

Installed vs. Not Installed iOS Apps and Games

I wondered how different the numbers would look if I filtered out games: It’s arguable that most games are often deleted (or not re-installed) after completion, or just gradually become boring or irrelevant. It’s also fair to note here that I’m not too much of a gamer myself:

Installed vs. Not Installed iOS Apps Only

The percentage of installed iOS apps goes up considerably once games are filtered out. Dollar-wise, $109.74 worth of iOS apps are currently installed on either of my devices (iPhone & iPad) vs. $109.66 that aren’t.

So what does that mean for games? Of the 34 that I’ve purchased, only 5 games — worth $18 — are currently installed on either of my iOS devices. Of the $111.66 that I’ve spent, $93.71 worth of games are on neither of my devices. Almost 84% of the money I’ve spent on games is now in the cloud.

Does that mean I wouldn’t have bought any or most of them? Not necessarily: That would be like not going to the movies because you pay $12 for 120 minutes that you can’t reuse”. Most forms of entertainment are ephemeral by nature.

Total Spending by Year

Keep in mind that data for 2010 and 2014 is partial:

Purchases-By Year-Expenses

More Facts

  • The first app I ever bought was iXpenseIt, a personal finance manager. I bought it on July 7, 2010 for $4.99. iXpenseIt is still in the App Store and has the same price tag. It was last updated on September 20, 2013. I no longer use it, or any other money management app for that matter.

  • The most senior” app currently installed on my iPhone is Pocket, which I downloaded when it was still known as Read it Later”. I bought Read It Later Pro” for $2.99 on July 28, 2010. Pocket has since went free — and later freemium — and remains a key tool in my read-save-organize workflow.

  • Other apps that stood the test of time: CamScanner+ (9/1/11), TuneIn Radio Pro (1/31/12), and Calzy calculator (4/26/13).

  • In contrast, here are the three most recent iOS purchases that are already gone from my devices: Reporter App (2/10/14), Unread (2/6/14), and Launch Center Pro (12/26/13). Interestingly, these are all top-quality apps. They just didn’t fit me well.

  • The most expensive app I ever bought is 1Password ($49.99) for the Mac. On iOS, 4 apps have cost me $9.99 each: Two of them are Apple’s own Pages and Keynote, which you can download for free today. The other two are FlightTrack Pro and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit for iPad.


  • My most favorite iOS app is CamScanner+. Pocket is a close second, and Fantastical 2 is another favorite.

  • Most hasty purchase: The in-app-purchase of Papers Essentials” pack — Ben Thompson makes drawing look as easy as spending $6.99.

  • Worst app purchase: Office Stretches — this app looked sketchy from the get-go, but I guess I was desperate enough to try anything that had the potential to ease my pain (context). The $2.99 IAP that unlocked additional exercise-videos turned out to be useless since the app would crash on every second launch.

  • Surprisingly good app: Screenshot — A $0.99 in-app-purchase. This one’s great if you want to take and present screenshots framed” in iOS devices: Easy to use, intuitive, and with great syncing and sharing options.

    I think Screenshot is also a great case-study for app developers: It gives the potential buyer enough of a glimpse of what the app can do so they know what they’re paying for, and presents the IAP option as that of additive value. There’s enough balance and tension that on the one hand does not frustrate the user by hindering the functionality, and on the other, makes the incentive to spend bigger.

  • Most expensive iOS app that’s not installed: TouchDraw ($6.99), which I used to plot microeconomics graphs in university. Wish I’d remembered having it when I first set out to plan my future home.

  • Longest lasting iOS game is Backgammon NJ HD ($7.99): I bought this one in June of last year and still enjoy it occasionally on the iPad. I remember having done some searches for backgammon games for iOS before relying on the App Store search and this one was mentioned everywhere — another good example where paying more translates to better value with multiplayer mode, ELO ratings, nice UI and good matchmaking.

  • Three most addictive games I’ve played on iOS: Fruit Ninja, Ski Safari, and Rumble (Now called Ruzzle).

  • Using the Timing App for OS X, I’ve calculated the time spent on this post to be at least 20 hours2. If you enjoyed this article, why not browse the homepage and consider subscribing to the RSS feed?


  • Numbers is hard. And numbers are hard.

  • With data, rely on human input only when you have to, and if that’s the case, double and triple check everything. Preferably before you’ve drawn and uploaded the charts to the website. Realizing you’ve mislabeled an app as iOS” instead of Mac” can get dramatic. Especially if:

  • The hard way is the easy way: At one point, two weeks ago, I was so anxious to finish and publish this piece that I’d forgotten that my only reason to even attempt this unnecessary craziness was to learn. So I started making shortcuts by manually counting every metric and average instead of learning formulas. And that’s why this post is published two weeks later.

  • Always let someone examine a long piece before publishing to check for errors, bloopers, and prevent self-consensus bias.


  1. This label was chosen for convenience and simplicity. The political debate of whether any non-game app is a productivity app or not does not pique my interest. ↩︎
  2. This excludes research time and does not include idle time, time spent desigining, editing, and re-arranging in Safari, and work done on other computers. ↩︎
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