By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The pioneer of mobile app analytics, App Annie, on Tuesday said it has begun tracking Android app usage in China, a landmark for understanding consumer behavior in the world's top smartphone market, which increasingly sets the pace for global trends.
App Annie said it was now able to offer real-time statistics on mobile application usage in China by tracking hundreds of thousands of Android users there, both through its own apps and with additional data supplied by external partners. Statistical methods are used to identify general trends, it said.
"It's crucial to provide an accurate picture to app publishers and brand (marketers) of what's happening in China but also what's happening globally in terms of app usage," said Bertrand Schmitt, chief executive and co-founder of App Annie.
App Annie, which tracks mobile software downloads, counts 94 of the world's top 100 app publishers as customers. They use the service to monitor the performance of their own apps against rivals. Major advertising brands such as McDonald's, Nike, Citibank and AstraZeneca also use App Annie to target customers with their own apps.
The company said its new China Android monitoring service can track usage metrics on 5,000 top apps such as active users, which apps are used together and data usage, both for app makers looking to track their performance versus rivals there or brand marketers looking to target advertising spending within apps.
China accounted for 60 percent of the world's $1.3 trillion total app spending including ecommerce, paid app store downloads and in-app advertising in 2016, according to App Annie.
Four of the world's most played mobile games come from China, while Tencent's WeChat ranks No. 3 globally among messaging apps behind Facebook's WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
App Annie was founded in Beijing in 2010 to measure the growth of the nascent smartphone apps market. It has tracked app usage on Apple iOS since its early days in China and expanded to cover Apple and Android users globally since then.
But the explosion of smartphones in China since 2012 thanks to Android phones, which now outnumber Apple users by 6 to 1 in a market with more than 700 million phone users, has been guesswork because of a lack of independent data on the market.
"When you look at mobile usage behavior and attitudes, China is really leading. The Chinese market is definitely ahead of the curve," said Forrester mobile analyst Thomas Husson. "It was more or less a black box, so you need some clarity as to what's going on, in aggregate, in the world's biggest market."
Dozens of mobile app analytics firms compete worldwide, including big software names such as Adobe, Facebook, Google and IBM and more focused players such as Apmetrix, Localytics, SimilarWeb and Taplytics. But only App Annie so far offers an integrated global view, including China.
App Annie is now headquartered in San Francisco and has $150 million in funding from venture investors including Sequoia Capital and IDG Capital Partners. Two-fifths of its 500 employees and most of its engineering staff are based in China.
(This version of the story corrects figure to trillion from billion in paragraph six)
(Reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Adrian Croft)