Facebook's 470m mobile app users

Until late last year, Facebook disclosed monthly active users (MAUs, hereafter 'users' for simplicity) for its smartphone apps, on a rolling daily basis. I was always slightly nervous of publishing it, since you had to know how to get it and I suspected it might disappear if anyone pointed it out. Now, like fairy gold, the data has disappeared, so I can share it. 

First, the eye-catching numbers:

  • In September 2012, Facebook reported 470m users of its smartphone apps for iPhone, Android, RIM, Nokia, Windows Phone and J2ME ('Featurephone) 
  • It had a further (presumably overlapping) 45m users of its iPad app, out of around 100m active devices
  • Out of 1.07bn total users, Facebook reported 604m 'mobile users', implying that 134m were not using these apps and hence were using the mobile web
  • Obviously, these numbers are not exclusive: many, if not all, of the people using mobile apps are also using the desktop site

The chart below shows Q3 2012 data, clearly showing how important mobile has become for Facebook, but also the relative importance of the different mobile platforms. 140m people were using the iPhone app, and 176m using the Android app: between them these are a quarter of Facebook's base, and almost certainly a higher proportion of use. 

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 9.45.38 PM.png

One of the interesting aspects of this data is that (if you were collecting it) you can compare platforms over time. The next chart compares Facebook's mobile numbers for September 2012 versus September 2011.

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 9.46.22 PM.png

It's pretty easy to see where the growth is coming from: Android, up from 66m to 175m, followed by iPhone, up from 91m to 140m. There is also very interesting strength for the J2ME client for feature phones, which is probably a function of growth in emerging markets: this app more than doubled to 75m users. Meanwhile the RIM app is growing much more slowly (and had flattened completely by the time the data stopped being reported) and Windows and Nokia are nowhere. 

How does this compare with the broader install base? 

  • The iPhone install base in September 2012 was perhaps 200m, giving Facebook 70% penetration
  • The Android base was MAYBE 550m. However at least 100m (a very rough estimate) was in China with no access to Facebook, giving Facebook an effective penetration of 40% of the 450m phones outside China

In other words, Facebook has much higher penetration in iPhones than Android phones: 70% versus 40%. This might be a geographic issue, with Android having higher share in emerging markets with lower Facebook use, but it probably also reflects the widely observed lower engagement on Android. There may also be app quality issues. 

Aggregating this data makes another trend very clear: use of smartphone apps is surging as a share of Facebook, up from 240m in September 2011 (30% of the total) to 470m (44%) in September 2012. Mobile web, meanwhile, is flat, at least on these numbers. 

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 9.56.10 PM.png

Finally, we also used to get data for Facebook's other apps; Messenger and Camera. 

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 10.13.19 PM.png

Facebook Messenger had an entirely respectable 53m users, again with the iPhone having slightly lower absolutes but higher penetration. RIM, perhaps unsurprisingly, was less successful. However, compared to the dozen or so stand-alone mobile messaging services, such as WhatsApp, Line etc, this is pretty small. Camera, meanwhile, bumps along at 1m or so users. Instagram is an obvious explanation here.

100m is the new 1m 

Facebook is becoming an mobile app-based service first and foremost. Almost half the base is using smartphone apps and we can be sure it's more than half the use, especially in developed markets, where 75% of users are on mobile in some form. That poses a two sets of challenges: 

  • Revenue: FB has a solid desktop revenue model, but the mobile model is much less well worked out
  • More importantly, I think, UX: Facebook has nailed a certain vision of desktop Social Networking. It is much less clear to me that it has nailed the One True Mobile social experience. Hence Instagram, Poke, Camera, Messenger - FB is back into customer discovery mode, trying to work out the right UX. Meanwhile Whatsapp seems to have a couple of hundred million users and there are at least a dozen mobile messaging apps with over 100m users. Worse, since they're mostly founder-controlled they may not be willing to be bought out

FB is going though a massive, existential transition to mobile, changing the UX and the revenue model massively. Nothing is settled yet. 


This data is not entirely compatible with public statements from Facebook that the mobile site has more users than its Android and iPhone apps combined. There's no obvious way to reconcile them: Facebook has disclosed MAUS for the Android and iPhone apps that add up to well over 340m, and 'mobile users' of a ittle over 600m.