A new report put together by mobile analytics firm Flurry states that the use of mobile apps – not just downloads, although that is definitely a factor – surged by 115 percent over 2012 in 2013.
According to the report, utilities and productivity apps rose by 149 percent, games by 66 percent, and music and entertainment apps in general by 78 percent. However, the app category that gained the greatest growth overall was messaging and social apps, which grew by 203 percent of 2012.
Social continues to outpace
Social apps by their very nature thrive on viral growth; it’s the way they are engineered. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see this category experience such phenomenal growth. One crucial feature of social apps, direct messaging, seems to be the one to watch for 2014:
“The rise of messaging apps was one of the most telling stories about the changing mobile application in 2013, signaling, perhaps, a slight shift away from more public social media services like Facebook, as a younger generation of smartphone users begin to have an impact on the overall ecosystem. For many of today’s teens and young adults, their lives have been plastered all over social media (thanks, mom) since they were born. Turning to more private means of communicating with friends is a notable act of rebellion, and one that could potentially spread into older demographics as well. Facebook even went on record this past year, saying it was seeing declining usage among teens for the first time, though the company overall is still growing.” – TechCrunch
Direct messaging isn’t just about sharing cute pictures of your cat wearing a sombrero. This sub-channel within social apps is breaking new ground in ecommerce and marketing, as one device manufacturer in China discovered in an interesting experiment: offer a new smartphone only to WeChat (an extremely popular messaging app in Asia) users, resulting in 150,000 new smartphones sold in under ten minutes, purely through the use of WeChat, a messaging app. If this number seems like a lot of smartphones to you, it is, but consider overall what Asian consumers are spending on their mobile devices:
From January to September 2013, consumers from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines spent $10.8 billion on nearly 41.5 million smartphones, according to a new report from market research agency GfK Asia. Last year, they spent $7.54 billion on 25.8 million smartphones. – “Smartphone sales surge in SE Asia”, NextWeb.com
Obviously, the implications of social messaging apps go far beyond simply sharing what is going on in users’ lives, and the smart money goes on more targeted ecommerce programs to be launched just like this one this year in all major direct messaging apps (SnapChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, KakaoTalk, and Line).
Some of the most popular apps in Asian app markets are social, particularly ones that offer direct messaging features such as WhatsApp, Line, and WhatsApp, which makes direct marketing to consumers using these apps even more valuable.
Utility and productivity apps continue to grow
Because of the increased use of mobile devices – both smartphones and tablets – utility and productivity apps grew 149 percent in usage in 2013. Tablet use is especially gaining ground with consumers, according to a recent report from Forrester:
”With double-digit growth in tablet uptake across Western Europe in 2012 and further double-digit growth expected, tablets can no longer be considered a fad,” says Forrester. The analyst said it expects the consumer-owned installed base of tablets to reach more than 147 million in Western Europe in 2017, up from 33 million in 2012. Its tablet growth forecast is based on a survey of 13,000 consumers in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The polled nations with the largest proportion of tablet owners, as a percentage of their total online population, were the Netherlands, with 20 per cent tablet penetration in 2012; Spain with 18 per cent; Italy with 16 per cent; and the U.K. with 15 per cent. France was lowest with just nine per cent.”
In addition, many of these devices are being used at work, i.e., BYOD, and thus utility and productivity apps will only continue to grow in usage. The above-referenced Forrester study found that 21 percent of respondents were using a tablet at least weekly for work, while forty-eight percent were using a smartphone at least weekly for work. These numbers are expected to increase in the years ahead, not only in business settings, but in educational, where touch-based tablets paired with utility apps will accomplish educational goals more intuitively and effectively than their laptop counterparts, simply because you can distribute them more easily to a wider population.
Growth does not equal engagement
While a robust app market definitely is good news for mobile developers, downloads do not necessarily equal user engagement, which is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Judging from the sheer amount of downloads from various app stores (numbering in the billions just from Apple alone); people are obviously very willing to try new apps. However, it is a good idea for developers to take a long-view picture beyond just that initial download and figure out how they can focus on retaining those customers, making them into die-hard fans who will continue to use the app for the long haul.
Looking at another study from Flurry, which measured app download activity on Christmas Day (typically a banner day for downloads), we notice an interesting new trend: app downloads for the first time were not over the top:
“The slowing growth rates and smaller Christmas Day app download spike signal market maturation. Many consumers in Western Europe and English-speaking countries – large mobile markets where Christmas is a big holiday -- already have a smartphone and / or a tablet. Fewer people are coming online with mobile for the very first time. Consumers who are on second, third or fourth devices have apps that they like and trust, and while they still download new apps, there isn’t much more impetus to do so on Christmas than any other day when they have a little downtime….Download growth on Christmas is only 11% greater this year than it was last year. Previously, download growth was 90%. The market is still growing, in other words, just much more slowly.”– BusinessInsider.com
Does this mean that the market is maturing, or even worse, stagnating? Absolutely not, in this writer’s opinion. The unprecedented year over year growth of new market segments (such as the direct messaging apps referenced above) will only serve to drive more downloads and more engagement, especially when paired with smart ecommerce offerings. The lack of a spike on one day out of the year is not a good indicator of overall trends, which is what we’re focusing on in this article.
What do you think? Is the market starting to slow down for app, or are we just getting started? Leave your thoughts in the comments.