Can you remember the last time you downloaded an app on your smartphone? According to recent studies, smartphone users are downloading drastically fewer mobile apps every month, and many users seem to be developing “app burnout”, overwhelmed by the saturated marketplace and using only a few apps on a regular basis. This dramatic decline in app interest, an appealing alternative with mobile-savvy websites, and a limited potential for most developers to make much money, is leading many to speculate if application development could be dead within 10 years. Or that apps will simply become shortcuts to websites.
These seismic shifts in the mobile marketplace will undoubtedly have a major effect on app development. Let’s explore the reasons why app development may be headed for an early demise to help better understand what businesses can do to proactively prepare for these changes on the horizon.
Fewer people are downloading applications
Researchers from Deloitte found that as many as 31 percent of smartphone owners do not download any apps in the average month and the average number of apps downloaded dropped significantly to 1.82 from 2.32 in the previous year. Either due to apathy or a number of other reasons we’ll explore below, the fervor of downloading apps that took place in the early years of smartphone use is clearly on the wane.
As the app marketplace has exploded over recent years from a humble number of offerings to over 775,000 for just the iPhone and iPad alone, many users are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available and experience app burnout. To stand out and be worth seeking out, an app has to generate serious buzz and significantly enhance the customers’ daily life these days.
Sticking with the classics
Most users, myself included, tend to only use a handful of apps on a regular basis, despite having many dozens downloaded to their phone. The longer people have smartphones the more likely they are to stick with the first apps they downloaded, and even if they download more, they may only use them once or twice, then delete the ones that are taking up space. Users tend to stick to free messaging and social apps, and other basic utility and productivity apps.
Most people only download free apps
Most users can be convinced to check out an app for free, but as soon as you tack on a mere $1 price tag (let alone more), their enthusiasm quickly drains. A report from Gartner indicates that within a year from now 94 percent of even those low priced apps will likely become free. With a narrowing window of potential profitability, it’s unlikely that most companies and developers will continue to invest in building new apps in the coming years.
Mobile apps won’t lead to riches for most developers
Despite early reports of the app gold rush and the occasional success story, most developers are finding it increasingly difficult to make much money with mobile apps. While apps can develop brand recognition and product awareness, making them profitable seems to be an elusive task. An oversaturated marketplace and slim profit potential will likely cause many developers to shy away from launching new apps in the years to come.
Advanced websites can take the place of apps
Apps offer limited purpose, while websites are more adaptive
Typically apps are designed with a unique purpose in mind, offering only a quick-use utility or limited productivity use. On the other hand, a comprehensive mobile-ready website can offer many more features to the user and ultimately become a more useful part of their daily lives.
Apps require updates, while websites can be updated automatically
Many apps languish on people’s smartphones because they haven’t been updated and most people don’t want to bother to do so. Alternatively, a website can be automatically updated before a visitor returns to the site without requiring any effort on their part.
As mobile application development and use seem to be on a declining trend, it’s important for businesses to consider their options and find better ways to engage with their audience. Mobile apps certainly aren’t going to disappear overnight, and some will most likely maintain relevance for years to come.
It is fair to say that this is a one-sided article. On the other-hand, some people like the ease of apps on their phone and enjoy having them there to help carry out a specific purpose. But that being said, with websites having so much more to offer and becoming more lightweight and mobile ready, those apps may just turn into website bookmarks.
We’ll continue to observe how developers, users, and businesses respond to the changing climate and help navigate through those changes.
- “Concerns raised for developers as interest in mobile apps dwindles” (TheInquirer.net)
- “Mobile apps won’t lead to riches for most developers” (Forbes)
- “How do you make money when less than 1% of apps are ‘financially successful” (International Business Times)
- “Are we suffering from mobile app burnout?” (New York Times)