App Trends 2016
At the end of 2013, there were more than one million apps apiece in the respective stores of Apple and Google, with both stores well over the 50bn downloads mark.
Apps have made their presence felt across a swathe of industries: from entertainment, publishing and games through to the enterprise and education sectors.
Apps have attracted big investments, generated lucrative acquisitions and made billions of dollars in revenues, yet they’ve also sparked debate around privacy, regulation and the question of whether they are fuelling another dotcom-style bubble that’s destined to pop.
And so to 2014. What will be the big trends around apps and the developers, startups and brands that are making and releasing them? Here are a few thoughts.
1. An apps crash is coming (but that’s a good thing)
Apple’s recently-released figures for 2013 sounded good: $8bn paid out to iOS developers over the year. But with a million apps, that’s an average of around $8k per app. A relatively small number of apps are making big money, and a lot of apps are making diddly-squat. Which isn’t necessarily a problem: many of them are a.) rubbish and b.) spare time or hobbyist projects.
In the middle, though, that’s where a crash is coming: for example startups that raised seed and/or venture financing but didn’t catch on, or which managed to find some users but are struggling to make money from them. Photo-sharing apps, health-tracking tools, freemium games, messaging apps… wherever there’s an overstuffed category, there’s going to be a cull in 2014.
This, all things considered, is a good thing. This year feels like a survival-of-the-fittest moment, although that hopefully means some of the people who failed will come back with new ideas, wiser for the lessons learned first time round.
But if 2012 and 2013 saw lots of app startups “pivot” in search of an audience and business model, 2014 will see many run out of money with no more turning to be done. On the bright side, those with good technology will find willing “acquihirers” in the likes of Facebook, Google, Apple and others.
2. iOS and Android still front-of-mind for developers
Crashing bores can vent for hours online why iOS is better than Android, or vice versa. The truth is that most serious app developers now come to market with a strategy encompassing both. iOS is still generating more revenues for developers, but Android has massive reach – depending on the specifics of your business and the parts of the world you’re targeting, they deserve equal priority.
Does that mean releasing new apps on both platforms simultaneously? Not always. Over 2013, a lot more apps did debut day-and-date across iOS and Android, but smaller app startups in particular still regularly launch, iterate and polish on iOS before porting to Android. The difference is they’ll have firm plans for that porting process from the start, which didn’t used to be the case.
Expect to see even the most iOS-focused app categories putting more emphasis on Android. Children’s apps are a good example: until recently, developers of kids’ apps didn’t see a viable market on Android, but strong sales of Android tablets (I’d say four in five parents I know who bought a tablet for their children this Christmas opted for a Kindle Fire or a Tesco Hudl, for example) are helping to change that.
Beyond iOS and Android? Microsoft has done a pretty good job of identifying the most popular apps that are still lacking on Windows Phone, then chasing them down. The gap between apps breaking big on rivals and appearing on Windows Phone can still be frustrating for owners – no Clash of Clans, QuizUp or Candy Crush Saga yet, to name but three of 2013’s biggest games. Microsoft (including Nokia, soon) will need to keep up its efforts.
3. Privacy as a priority
The recent Snapchat hack – and the subsequent arguments over whether the company did enough to apologise to users for it – has sharpened the debate around apps and privacy. As have the ongoing revelations about intelligence agencies’ electronic surveillance, and a growing realisation beyond the technology community that free online services (whether mobile or not) are ultimately selling something to somebody – and if you’re not paying, it’s probably your data.
This already feels a bit old to geeks like me, but the point is that this realisation is crossing over to the hundreds of millions of normal people who now own smartphones and use apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Skype, MyFitnessPal and any number of Google services. When apps play fast and loose with privacy, and/or get hacked, the collective freakout will travel faster and further than ever.