Asia booms for mobile app downloads

Mobile developers should consider turning their attention to Asia, which is booming with mobile app downloads, according to a new report from app analytics firm Distimo. The region now boasts the second-largest global app market — in China — and it has a fast riser in South Korea, which is now outpacing Germany and France in app download volume.

Distimo, which examined downloads in the Apple App Store (s AAPL), said the overall download volume in Asian countries has taken off in the past six months, while some Western countries actually saw less download volume over the same period. While the U.S. remains the leader for app downloads, Asian countries like India and Thailand have grown 27 percent and 40 percent, respectively, since December 2010.

While China has now moved into second place in overall app downloads, South Korea actually outpaces China and Japan in download volume on a per capita basis. This comes despite the fact that the App Store in South Korea doesn’t include games because of local regulations. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that gaming is the most popular category in the App Store in most other countries.

But there are still hurdles for developers looking to tap the Asian market. Monetization for apps is about two-thirds that of Western markets, in part because Asian consumers are one-third less likely to buy paid apps. That might also be a result of higher average selling prices for paid apps, which are $2.62 in Asia among the top 300 apps, compared with $1.48 in the U.S.

Asian consumers are also less interested in in-app purchase, which is a key way for developers to make money on free apps. Outside Singapore and Malaysia, all Asian countries produce less revenue via in-app purchase for developers when compared to their Western counterparts. In China, for example, only 34 percent of the revenue from the 200 top grossing applications came from from apps with in-app purchase, half that of the U.S.

Western developers must also consider the need to localize apps in Asian countries. Distimo found that 34 percent of the most popular apps in Asia are only popular within Asia, and some titles that are popular worldwide don’t catch on in the region. The need for localization is more pronounced in countries like China, where 65 percent of the 300 most-popular free applications are popular only in the region. That could present a problem for outside developers, but there are examples of success, such as Electronic Arts (s erts), whose SimCity and Monopoly are in the top ten iPad apps in Asia.

The Asian market is largely similar to the rest of the world in terms of the categories that are popular, however. Games and entertainment are the top two categories in the U.S. and Asia. And if the growth of paid apps and in-app purchase increases as it has in the West, developers should be making more money in those areas soon. It’s still a challenge for some developers to go global, but the investment may be worth it now.