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How big a business are mobile apps? In a new report, market research firm Gartner forecasts that global mobile app store revenues will triple from $5.2 billion last year to $15 billion in 2011, and keep growing to an astounding $58 billion by 2014. As with any forecast of a hypergrowth market, you can be sure this one will change in six months, and the further out you go the more guesswork involved. (Remember, less than a year ago nobody was even able to predict how many iPads would be sold this year). But here is one prediction you can count on: you will be hearing these numbers thrown around a lot all year long until a better forecast comes along.

Gartner breaks down the forecast into advertising revenues and paid downloads (including in-app purchases), as you can see from the chart above. Paid downloads and other direct purchases make up the majority of the expected revenues, but mobile advertising is expected to grow nicely over time into a multi-billion dollar market.

The forecast includes all mobile app stores, not just Apple’s (such as the Android Market, Nokia’s Ovi Store, Research In Motion’s App World, Microsoft Marketplace and Samsung Apps). However, Gartner estimates that Apple’s app store accounted for 90 percent of the 8.2 billion total estimated downloads last year (both free and paid), and will continue to dominate. In 2011, Gartner estimates total app store downloads will reach 17.7 billion, with 81 percent of those being free. The revenue forecasts include the portion kept by Apple (AAPL) and the other app stores.

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Source: Mobile App Store Revenues Could Hit $15 Billion in 2011