Our DNA is written in Swift

To Universal or Not

Daniel Wood asked:

Considering making a Blockees universal. What are people’s thoughts on universal apps? Good for users, but splits sales between devices.

My first gut response was, that IMHO users love universal apps, whereas marketeers and financiers hate them. HD or “for iPad” versions can generally be sold for a higher price.

Daniel then voiced his fear that if you have an universal app you might “dilute” your download rank on iTunes. Again I responded from my feeling that I don’t think that this is right. Daniel challenged me to prove it. And so I will.

I went to Applyzer and copy/pasted the top 100 free US apps from category “top overall” from iPhone and iPad into a graphic. Applyzer has the top 1000 for for the following categories:

  • Paid (iPhone/iPod)
  • Free (iPhone/iPod)
  • Grossing (iPhone/iPod)
  • Paid (iPad)
  • Free (iPad)
  • Grossing (iPad)
  • Paid (Mac)
  • Free (Mac)
  • Grossing (Mac)

Then I went through the list and marked all apps that are showing as universal in iTunes. Then I searched where the same app would be in both ranks. Finally I made a quick survey if I could spot apps that had a separate iPhone and iPad version.

Note that this was done from hand and I might have missed a couple of connections. But even then I think the picture is rather obvious.

There were 27 universal apps in the free overall US top 100 and 33 in the iPad chart. Of these I could find 16 universal apps that where ranking similarily high in both charts. 11 universal iPhone apps did not show in the top 100 iPad chart. 14 universal iPad apps did not show in the top 100 iPhone/iPod chart. Possibly they were only slightly outside the top 100, I did not check.

The percentage of successful universal apps is an order of magnitude higher than dedicated versions. Amongst the top 100 (again only quickly looking visually) I could only find 4 apps that both had separate versions.

I invite your scrutiny of this casual analysis of mine, however I think that this graphic can only lead to this answer to Daniel’s question:

Make your free app universal, if you are NOT Rovio. I think this analysis debunks the myth that making a free app universal is bad for it’s ranking.


Categories: Q&A


  1. Oliver,

    I have long been championing universal apps. As the sales of iOS devices grows so is the demand to have apps that run seamlessly on any devices, and I don’t mean running an iPhone app @ 2x on the iPad.

    Now there are cases when it doesn’t make since to have something universal or for one or the other. For example, Nike GPS app should be iPhone only, Flipboard should be iPad only, but one of the main reasons why i bought 2Do is the fact that it was universal and sync between both devices.

    For those that are interested I created a universal app template (hosted on github: There are 4 variants of it (separate branches: vanilla, iAd, tabbar support and iAd with tabbar support)

    *I do appreciate that you spent an hour comparing the top 100 free apps and drawing the connections manually.

  2. very interested post indeed; thanks for sharing! you already got feedback from others?

  3. The only feedback I got was that other people have another opinion. Then a twitter fight ensued… do you think my conclusion is correct?

  4. well, I guess your sample proves your point – but it’s ‘only’ the successful apps you analyzed (top of the rankings).
    guess it would be _very_ tedious to get analysis over the top 5k or so apps…

    let’s put it this way: you have motivated me to think about making universal apps 🙂

  5. I’ve mailed Michael from Applyzer and asked him if he could automate this kind of data-mining. Then we could repeated this analyis for different regions and categories automatically.

    Though, only the top 1000 are available in general, so that would have to suffice.

  6. cool, that would be interesting – keep us posted =8-)
    and if you need a hand with the data mining, let us know – I guess a lot of us would be interested and willing to help

  7. The interesting idea is to have optional different prices for both iPhone & iPad version. And let Apple to approve if this makes sense or not. I guess It makes sense when UI is really different so it took 2x time to make both version.

  8. I think there are a number of reasons that Universal apps are less desirable for developers. To address your specific question on App Store ranking, an Apple FAQ states: “When a Universal app is purchased on the iPad, it is counted towards the iPad chart. If a Universal app is purchased on iPhone, it counts towards the iPhone chart. If a Universal app is purchased on a Mac + PC, it counts towards the iPhone chart.” So if a user downloads your app on both their iPhone and iPad, you’ll only get counted on one chart. Whereas separate apps would earn you a count on both charts.