What is an app store? The software engineering perspective

Wenhan Zhu*, Sebastian Proksch, Daniel M. German, Michael W. Godfrey, Li Li, Shane McIntosh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


“App stores” are online software stores where end users may browse, purchase, download, and install software applications. By far, the best known app stores are associated with mobile platforms, such as Google Play for Android and Apple’s App Store for iOS. The ubiquity of smartphones has led to mobile app stores becoming a touchstone experience of modern living. App stores have been the subject of many empirical studies. However, most of this research has concentrated on properties of the apps rather than the stores themselves. Today, there is a rich diversity of app stores and these stores have largely been overlooked by researchers: app stores exist on many distinctive platforms, are aimed at different classes of users, and have different end-goals beyond simply selling a standalone app to a smartphone user. The goal of this paper is to survey and characterize the broader dimensionality of app stores, and to explore how and why they influence software development practices, such as system design and release management. We begin by collecting a set of app store examples from web search queries. By analyzing and curating the results, we derive a set of features common to app stores. We then build a dimensional model of app stores based on these features, and we fit each app store from our web search result set into this model. Next, we performed unsupervised clustering to the app stores to find their natural groupings. Our results suggest that app stores have become an essential stakeholder in modern software development. They control the distribution channel to end users and ensure that the applications are of suitable quality; in turn, this leads to developers adhering to various store guidelines when creating their applications. However, we found the app stores operational model could vary widely between stores, and this variability could in turn affect the generalizability of existing understanding of app stores.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
Number of pages40
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


One of the authors has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 825328 (FASTEN).


  • App store
  • Empirical software engineering
  • Software distribution
  • Software release


Dive into the research topics of 'What is an app store? The software engineering perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this