Typically, Apple was not especially visible this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as rivals like Samsung and a host of smartphone and tablet makers nudged each other for space on the streams of tech blog reporting. But the company shot a subtle reminder into the fray yesterday in marking a milestone -- 40 billion apps downloaded since the App Store launched. The real story is the sheer velocity of the expansion, with half of those 40 billion coming in just the last year, and 2 billion in December. Ultimately, content -- not gadgetry -- still drives consumer adoption, and seems to be the sub-test even as we gush over ever-widening TV and smartphone screens.
For those still keeping count of the raw number of programs in these stores, Apple says it has 775,000 iOS apps now that have paid out over $7 billion in revenues to developers. There are over 500 million Active Apple accounts.
For the winners, of course, the numbers can be staggering. Temple Run developer Image Studios reports its game has been downloaded 75 million times. Autodesk has over 50 million downloads of its 20 apps.
All well and good -- but can anyone help my wife get a decent running app? I found her in her running outfit the other day ready to dash for her workout but fuming over her iPhone. All her friends have these cool apps that measure and track their running distance. “I want one,” she insisted.
“You decided to look for one as you were about to start running?” I asked with the disbelief that comes only from one who is already accustomed to the inanities of the app ecosystem.
“Well, yeah. That is when I need it and think of it.”
“Well, did you ask what your friends are using?”
“No, I just want an app that tells me how far I have run. I can’t figure out the right search terms to use.”
“Well, the phone is one of the worst places to search for an app.”
“You need to do a little research. There are a lot of articles online that will rate the apps for runners.”
“I need to go online and research an app?”
“There are hundreds of thousands of apps in the store. It is almost impossible to find the right one without some groundwork.”
“I am going running. This iPhone sucks.”
To be sure, my wife is notoriously app-averse. Two years after getting her iPhone I think she is barely filling two screens of icons. But as the smartphone universe expands to embrace the middle and late-adopters, these users care less and less about the piles of apps available to them in these stores. They just want what they want when they want it. They don’t want to rely on Facebook recommendations, Apple’s “Genius” or serendipity. They need an app ecosystem that turns its attention away from a preoccupation with scale and aims at consumer efficiency.