Smartphone users worldwide will download about 36 billion apps in 2012, amounting to an average of almost 37 native apps during the year for each smartphone subscriber. That marks a nearly 6% increase over the 35 apps downloaded on average last year, according to a new forecast from U.K.-based ABI Research.
Despite the gain, the firm believes the average download count won’t increase substantially in the coming years, given the evolution of the mobile Web. It points to the Financial Times’ decision to pull the plug on its iOS app and switch to HTML5 as a harbinger of what’s to come, especially among traditional publishers.
“News and magazine apps are a segment where the momentum is likely to shift towards the Web within the next two to three years,” noted senior analyst Aapo Markkanen. “Since news and media content already account for a large share of smartphone usage and are likely to play an even bigger role in later adopters’ usage, changes in this segment alone will make subscribers on average download fewer native apps.”
The next wave of smartphone owners in mature markets like the U.S., Western Europe and Asia will download fewer apps than the first one-third of mobile consumers who bought smartphones, according to the report on mobile app storefronts. At the same time, ABI expects that in the games and utilities categories, the mobile Web will probably never catch up with native apps, due to the difficulty in matching the user experience.
ABI’s outlook on the future of apps appears at odds with a separate report released Tuesday by Strategy Analytics, which maintains that the emergence of HTML5 won’t put much of a dent in the app economy. Instead, it predicts the Web programming language will lead to the spread of hybrid apps that combine HTML5 with native APIs (application programming interface) to harness the best of native and open standards.
Even so, Strategy Analytics acknowledged in a prior report that HTML5 could have a significant impact on certain areas, such as news and book publishing. But the research firm argues that even if all the apps in those categories were to be turned immediately into HTML5 apps, more than 85% of all apps would still be native. In that forecast, HTML5 would be no more than a niche player in a landscape dominated by native apps.