Developers and the “middle class” app economy

While breaking into the big-time is still a hard nut to crack for developers, there is definitely a  vibrant “middle class” app economy that is alive and well, according to a new report released by Flurry, an app analytics firm this week:

“These numbers are simply unprecedented, especially because most of these app developers have risen organically, and not as a result of consolidation or through mergers and acquisitions. If anything, the market, its reach and the time spent on mobile is still with the “middle class”, or the mid-tail developers and content owners. Among the 1.2 billion device owners, app developers are finding millions of people to enjoy their apps and the content behind it.” – “The Mobile Content Explosion”, blog.flurry.com

A few of the strongest takeaways from the report (images courtesy Flurry.com)

-       The company reports seeing 357% growth over the past 18 months from independently owned apps that have a worldwide audience of over 20 million monthly actives, and 121% growth from those with an audience of over 1 million.

-       …on the Flurry platform the number of independently owned app developers that have a worldwide audience of over 20 million Monthly Active Users (MAU) has jumped from 7 in Q1 2012 to 32 in Q3 2013. That is whopping 357% growth in 18 months. 

-       In the same period, the number of app developers with an audience over one million MAU has risen from just under 400 to 875, a whopping 121% growth. 

These numbers seem to indicate that while the market is still definitely challenging to break into, there’s still plenty of growth potential, especially for Facebook app usage:

“The data seems to counter a number of theories and various reports that the app stores are becoming overcrowded, and that while the app stores are filled more apps than users could ever want, few of these apps are being used. In fact, Flurry itself reported something similar earlier this year, when it found that Facebook app usage on iOS and Android devices accounted for a whopping 18% of time spent, ahead of games, web browsing, productivity apps, news apps, utility apps, and entertainment apps, among other things.” – “An App Middle Class Continues to Grow” – TechCrunch.com

image courtesy Comscore.com

If you’re a developer reading these numbers, you might be thinking that this is a really good time to be someone who knows how to code, and you would definitely be right: software programmers are an extremely valuable commodity. However, those numbers should also give software developers a bit of pause before dreaming of piles of money. Most of  the revenue that these numbers reflect goes to just a few developers, with most coders’ apps trying vainly to get noticed in the vast sea of uploaded apps.

The problem for developers is two-fold: there are literally millions of apps available, and there seems to be no good system in place for helping people to find what they are looking for in an intuitive way. There are simply a lot of apps out there, with more coming into the stores on a daily basis. The problem is finding the good ones, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the ones with the most downloads. While app stores are constantly evolving, there doesn’t seem to be a good structure in place for people to find anything outside of the inevitable curated top ten lists.

Thousands of apps are launched every week, some good, some bad, some mediocre. There is a major signal to noise problem, and in-store app discovery is at its earliest stages. How do developers get their apps to rise above the rest? Merely building an app doesn’t translate into getting people to notice your app. How do you get consumer to notice the app, and what will they do with it once they get it? How do developers start connecting with their users more, and getting their app into the hands of the people who really want to use it?

Developers that don’t have that crucial household name recognition or marketing budgets to shove out the competition will find that they can still do quite a bit to compete in the app store ecosystem. Creativity, persistence, and the ability to reach underserved markets is the key. There are several different ways that developers can increase the chance that their app will be discovered in app stores, including:

  • App store optimization
  • Social media outreach
  • Website tie-in
  • Discounts, both seasonal and otherwise
  • In-app rewards

 

Focusing on the devices that are being used by the greatest amount of people seems to be a route that is destined for some success. For instance, a recent poll of information workers – those who spend at least an hour a day using a computer to complete a task – seems to indicate that tablets and tablet hybrids are the form factors developers should keep their eyes on:

“..tablet ownership is set to skyrocket in the next few years, with the percentage of adults owning a tablet or tablet hybrid device set to increase from a mere 14% in 2012 to a whopping 55% by 2017. 21% of the users surveyed were using a tablet about once a week for work purposes, and 32% of these responded positively when asked if they would prefer a Windows tablet as their next device. Overall, the preference for tablets were primarily for Microsoft Surface, with 32% of the respondents polled indicating their preference for this relatively new release. 26% favored the iPad, with 12% going straight for the Android tablet. For phones, the figures seemed to be the opposite: 33% favored the iPhone, with 22% preferring Android and only 10% choosing a Windows Phone.” – What Workers Are Using 

The bottom line according to this latest data is that consumers are still looking to download more and more apps. Niche apps are doing especially well, and developers are building more and more apps to meet the increasing demand. While app stores don’t always offer the most intuitive search platforms on which to be found, and the landscape is always going to be competitive, the good news is that consumers want more apps, and smart developers will be able to meet this need.

 

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