Why Angry Birds has invaded Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

Some iPhone apps aren't just US phenomenons. Angry Birds is a hit in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and, of course, the US.

Angry Birds, a video game from Rovio.

Countries may disagree on matters of foreign policy, religion, and economics, yet there's one subject in which nearly everyone can unite: mobile apps.

Sure, Angry Birds probably won't help settle peace negotiations any time soon. But the game is a shared cultural phenomenon on six continents. According to its maker, Finnish game developer Rovio, Angry Birds is a hit in 67 countries, including China, Russia, parts of Middle East, and, of course, the United States.

In the game, players catapult the titular angry birds toward strategically designed fortresses to squash evil pigs. Why the mass appeal? No matter where their country of original, people just want to have fun. In less than two years, mobile applications have evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry, in part because they allow users to do so inexpensively and on-the-go.

“People like to be entertained,” explains Carl Howe, a director at tech research firm Yankee Group. “We think of ourselves as being overworked and busy all the time, but the reality is that we have lots of little nooks and crannies in our day. Apps are a good way to wile away the 5 minutes we’re waiting for the bus.”

Entertainment is the number one reason consumers use apps, according to a Yankee Group survey of US smartphone owners. Second is to accomplish a task; third is for social networking. All 10 of the top paid apps and nine out of 10 free apps downloaded from Apple’s US App Store are categorized as games.

Even in conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, entertainment dominates the industry, though not as much as in the US.

In Saudi Arabia’s Apple App Store, a social networking app, WhatsApp Messenger, tops the most-downloaded paid chart and Consumer Price Index, a business tool, is second among the free ones. Though its culture revolves around traditional Islamic values, the country’s third most popular paid download is a sexually explicit app called Orgasm Videos. The same app is first on Pakistan’s chart. The eighth most downloaded app there is a complimentary reference tool that translates Arabic texts.

Second on both countries lists: Angry Birds. Mr. Howe says there is no particular secret behind the app’s success.

“The ones that rise to the top usually hit a core group, then spread by word of mouth and social networks,” he explains. “And marketing doesn’t hurt.”

Mobile-app revenue for 2010 should hit $1 billion in the US, $3.3 billion globally, and continue to grow in upcoming years, says Howe.

“This is a new type of software that’s engaging and easy to learn,” says Howe. “We’ve shortened the time between impulse and purchase. It takes one click to own it, and install it. That’s absolutely relevant internationally.”

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