We all know that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is the king of mobile hardware. The gadget company sold a stunning 35.1 million iPhones during the first three months of 2012, according to its recent earnings report.
But who is the king of mobile software and app content? The app universe is getting bigger all the time, after all. The recent Facebook acquisition of Instagram for a cool $1 billion or OMGPOP’s Draw Something app seeing 20 million downloads in just its first five weeks show that software developers have a huge avenue for profits if they can successfully leverage the mobile platform of hardware makers.
So who are the biggest mobile software players? While it’s hard to get a handle on the exact dollar amount, digital research firm comScore has sliced and diced the web traffic generated by mobile apps in March as a proxy for use. It’s not a perfect measure of profitability, but as for popularity, the methodology seems spot-on.
Here are the top 10 app and mobile players:
#10: Rovio, 25 million+ mobile visitors per month
Rovio is the brand behind the cult hit Angry Birds and generates just more than 25,000 unique visitors each month. The game company is not yet a publicly traded stock — but according to recent reports, a Rovio IPO is in the works and could raise as much as $9 billion. It might need that cash to develop a second act, since the company has yet to recreate the success of Angry Birds.
#9: Twitter, 25.6 million+ mobile visitors per month
Coming in just slightly ahead of Rovio — roughly 25.6 million unique visitors each month vs. 25 million for the game company — is Twitter. The social media platform is perfect for mobile because it puts a natural cap on finger-tapping via its 140-character limit and has built-in functionality to share pictures from your phone. The company currently is private, though there is perpetually talk about taking Twitter public via an IPO.
#8: Zynga, 26 million+ mobile visitors per month
Another game maker, Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA), makes the top 10 list. Popular games include Farmville, Mafia Wars and Words with Friends – along with the recent acquisition of OMGPOP and its hit game Draw Something. This software stock already has floated its stock publicly via a December IPO but has rapidly deteriorated ever since. Further confirmation of the slide came with its first quarterly report, which showed that Zynga earnings haven’t been fun at all. The reason is that while Zynga has made inroads into mobile, as this ranking proves, it is considerably less profitable than previous avenues. Time will tell whether Zynga’s reach can result in success for shareholders.
#7: eBay, 27.1 million+ mobile visitors per month
Online auction giant eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) admittedly has moved way beyond being a virtual garage sale. There are true e-commerce merchants and used-car sales making the tech company cash, as well as the very profitable PayPal arm paving the way. It’s worth noting, too, that while 27.1 million visitors were sent to eBay via mobile, about 82% came from eBay’s custom app. A few people apparently still are surfing, but eBay clearly is making inroads via software — something that could bode very well as it looks to use PayPal to redefine mobile payments.
#6: Cooliris, 28.5 million+ mobile visitors per month
I have to admit, I didn’t even know what Cooliris was before I made this list. Previously known as PicLens, the company makes slideshow software as well as plug-ins that allow you to review thumbnail pictures, web pages and other content on your mobile device before you click through. Not flashy, but certainly one of those pieces of software that many people use without even knowing it. Cooliris also has a number of fancy iPad apps like Discover, Liveshare and Decks. The company is very much in the startup phase, and is based in Palo Alto, Calif.
#5: Apple, 38.3 million+ mobile visitors per month
It’s not enough that Apple has to have a huge hardware footprint — the company also is big in the app world through a little program you might have heard about called iTunes. The fluid integration of music, movies and books into the iPhones and iPads that Apple sells makes it a no-brainer that the company would figure out a way to drive big traffic to other services and skim a few more bucks off the top. No wonder this company is worth $530 billion, right?
#4: Amazon, 44 million+ mobile visitors per month
Another logical player on this list is Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). The company has taken great pains to subsidize its Kindle Fire tablet as a way of competing with the iPad — and by the looks of recent Amazon earnings, it has succeeded big-time. Couple the fact that AMZN is selling hardware along with its entrenched status as the world’s leading provider of digital books and e-reader software, and it’s easy to see why so many people are visiting Amazon through their smartphones or tablets.
#3: Yahoo, 66.1 million+ mobile visitors per month
You might think Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) is a stodgy old dot-com company that hasn’t adapted to the new media landscape, but it’s worth noting the firm has made big inroads into mobile. I’m not talking just surfing — about 75% of mobile Yahoo! traffic comes from apps that include Yahoo! Weather and, of course, Yahoo! Stocks for the iPhone. The trouble is that ad impressions are much harder to come by when you get quotes or forecasts from your mobile phone instead of Yahoo.com … and that obviously is weighing on earnings. But the reach of Yahoo! is noteworthy.
#2: Facebook, 78 million+ mobile visitors per month
You know you’ve done it — while waiting in line at the store, you pull out your mobile phone and check to see what’s new on Facebook. It’s this ease-of-use and constant connectedness that makes the social media company a massive player on smartphones and tablets. That’s just one reason that the Facebook IPO is going to be the story of the year on Wall Street as CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes his brainchild into the public arena. What the future holds for Facebook in the mobile space could largely be decided by the investments Zuck & Co. make with their massive IPO war chest after the company takes on new investors.
#1: Google, 93 million+ mobile visitors per month
No investor or techie should be surprised that the 900-pound gorilla of mobile apps is Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). After all, the company dominates online video and online advertising and online search. There’s no reason its reach shouldn’t translate to mobile — especially considering its Android operating system that is starting to give Apple-powered devices a run for their money. Leading apps are what you would expect — Google search software, Google Maps for directions and mobile YouTube applications. But also big on the list are Gmail and the Android Market for all Google-powered gadgets. Even Facebook can’t compete with a lineup like that.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com, and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at editor@investorplace??.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, Jeff Reeves did not own a position in any of the investments named here.