For App Makers, Pie Isn't Getting Much Bigger

It’s pretty clear by now that apps are winning the battle for media attention on smartphones. Reports by research firms like comScore and eMarketer have shown that apps account for the bulk of time spent on phones compared to the mobile Web in the U.S.

Furthermore, comScore data released last week found that time with mobile apps (on smartphones and tablets) now makes up half of all time spent with digital media.

A new report this week from Nielsen shows that U.S. Android and iPhone users were spending 65% more time with apps at the end of 2013 than two years earlier -- a jump from 18 hours, 18 minutes a month to 30:15. That’s the good news for developers, brands and anyone else that makes an app.

But there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of apps people have on their phones. The average number of apps used per month rose from 23.3 in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 26.8 during the same period in 2012, and to 26.8 apps per month in 2013. That’s only a 17% increase.

“This shows that while there may be an upper limit to the total number of apps users are willing to access within a given month, the amount of time they are spending on those apps is showing no signs of slowing down,” noted Nielsen.

Keep in mind that the number of apps in the App Store has roughly tripled, and grown more than fivefold in the Google PlayStore, since the end of 2011 to today. Each venue now boasts about 1.2 million titles. That’s a lot of apps trying to grab a relative handful of available slots on a user’s phone. It makes getting into Stanford look easy.

What’s more, if you figure a good chunk of the 27 apps people have on their phone are staples like Facebook, Google Maps, YouTube, Pandora, Candy Crush and the like, that leaves a very small window indeed for new games and other apps to find their way onto the limited real estate of the phone screen.

A Gartner study earlier this year estimated that because of the ever-growing number of apps, less than 0.01% of consumer apps by 2018 will be considered a financial success by their developers.

The figures make you wonder why so much money is pouring into app install ads, given the degree of difficulty involved in ending up as one of the roughly two dozen apps people use each month. Much of that spending likely ends up being directed at game enthusiasts and other power users who go well beyond the average number of apps and time spent.

For brands, the data only underscores the daunting challenge of gaining an audience for their apps when people tend to stick with a core group of well-known apps tied to functions like social networking and search. That in turn will only continue to benefit the big players like Facebook and Google as advertising flows to them as a way of reaching the growing mobile audience in apps where they’re mostly likely to be found.


"Pizza Pie" photo from Shutterstock.

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1 comment about "For App Makers, Pie Isn't Getting Much Bigger".
  1. Krillion by Local from Local Corporation , July 2, 2014 at 4:10 p.m.
    We agree, Mark. Retailers and brands are going to have increasing challenges in gaining broad traction with consumers via only brand or retailer-specific apps. The question becomes – What else can they do to ensure that their products and brands are discoverable on mobile searches by ready-to-buy consumers? Brands and retailers need to make sure their websites are mobile-optimized today with a focus on the customer experience. How many clicks does it take to find a product? Are product data and mobile-optimized images readily available, once a consumer finds a product on the mobile site? Can consumers easily find local store info - hours/location, etc.. And, the holy grail, can it offer consumers in-stock product availability at local brick-and-mortar retail locations? Per the stats you cited, consumers have a finite number of apps they’ll download and use regularly. Given that, some consumers are opting for aggregated shopping apps vs. downloading multiple, single retailer apps. Retailers and brands need to be in front of motivated shoppers everywhere - not just through their own apps. Retailers and brands need to be aware of the top shopping apps and sites, and ensure that their product catalogs are available and easily accessible.