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Apple's App Store just had the most successful month of sales ever

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And games are still the biggest moneymakers

Apple Watch app store

Apple’s App Store had its biggest month of sales in the history of the store in December 2016, according to Phil Schiller, the company’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

In an interview with The Verge, Schiller said that the App Store made $3 billion in revenue in December, from a combination of in-app purchases, paid downloads, and fees for subscriptions. He also said that the App Store, which first launched back in 2008, has ballooned to 2.2 million apps; and that app makers were paid out $20 billion dollars in 2016, up 40 percent from a year ago.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope math — and assuming 30 percent of the total app money went to Apple, not 15 percent — that means Apple made around $8.57 billion in App Store revenue last year. App subscriptions made up $2.7 billion of that, which Apple says is a double-digit increase, but it’s still a much smaller sliver of the pie than in-app purchases.

Maybe not surprisingly, Pokémon Go was the most downloaded app of the year, and the fifth highest-grossing app in the App Store.

The App Store numbers — and Apple’s willingness to share them — is Apple’s first significant App Store update since the company announced a bunch of changes to the store in June 2016 and subsequently rolled them out in September. In June, Apple said that it would open up subscriptions to all 25 categories of app makers — not just games, or video apps, or cloud services — and that it would offer a sweeter revenue-sharing deal for app makers who were able to maintain subscribers for a long time. It also marked Apple’s first foray into search ads in the App Store, which Schiller says have had a better than 50 percent conversion rate into actual downloads.

Last month Schiller tweeted that November 2016 marked the App Store’s biggest month ever in terms of purchases, but confirmed that December’s $3 billion figure tops the month before. Most of the App Store revenue still comes from games, Schiller said.

What we still don’t know about App Store numbers, because Apple declined to share: how much of that subscription revenue came from developers who were incentivized to offer subs after September; and how much of the App Store revenue comes from iOS versus other platforms, such as macOS, tvOS, or watchOS (though apps for iPhone likely make up the bulk of that).

Another notable data point: while the US is still Apple’s biggest market for the App Store, the Chinese market has grown a whopping 90 percent from a year ago. This only underscores that China is a crucial market for Apple in terms of both hardware sales and services. It’s also happening at a time when the Chinese government is wielding its power over content that it deems "harmful information." Just yesterday, it was reported that Apple removed The New York Times’ English-language and Chinese-language apps from the App Store after the Chinese government requested it.

Schiller declined to comment on the removal of The New York Times apps from the App Store in China.