More often than not, people refer to 2007 and the launch of the iPhone as the key milestone that changed forever the mobile industry. Despite an incredible device, Apple struggled the first few months because its business model relied on sharing revenues with telecom operators instead of letting them subsidize its smartphones. The key milestone was in fact July 2008 and the launch of the Apple App Store because it symbolized a new era: the shift from hardware to software in the mobile industry.
While Apple was not the first app marketplace, it is fair to say it created the App economy. 5 years and 50 billion downloads later, where do we stand?
App Stores: A Unique Opportunity To Engage Consumers Directly
Ask console gaming companies what they think of disruption created by app stores (now a generic term following the end of the “app store” name lawsuit between Apple and Amazon) and you’ll get a sense of what the app economy is. We’re scratching the surface of changes to come but clearly the app economy enables brands (including those who do not have a retail presence) to get insights on consumer behaviors to create new products and to distribute them at much lower cost. Numerous consumer app stores have flourished (more than 70 different Android-based app stores in China!) but few are really succeeding. Google Play has surpassed the Apple App Store when it comes to the sheer number of available apps and both have surpassed 50 billion downloads leaving competitors in the dust. However, volume does not matter so much any more. This is all about usage, personalization and recommendation.
AppGratis is a French app promotion and discovery platform startup that was recently ejected from the App Store on the grounds that it violated Apple’s developer T&Cs. Back in September 2012, Apple tweaked its developer guidelines, adding a clause that states: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.”
Simon Dawlat, the CEO of AppGratis, shares his vision in great detail here and explains why he thinks the ban is totally unfair. Even France’s digital industry minister, Fleur Pellerin, has spoken up in support of AppGratis, describing Apple’s actions as ”extremely brutal, unilateral, and without explanation,” and calling on Cupertino to “behave ethically.“ Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch fairly and exhaustively summarizes the whole story here.
Without going into the legal details here, one may argue that there is a blurring of the line between app discovery and app promotion. I personally viewed AppGratis as a traffic booster based on curated app discovery experiences. I think it definitely helped gain some initial visibility in app stores, but I think app developers and publishers still needed to measure the customer lifetime value and make sure their audiences would stay engaged.
Anyway, the AppGratis controversy highlights the growing dependency from publishers and developers to Apple and Google in the app economy.
In July 2012, app stores — first popularized by Apple — will be four years old. There is still a lot of room to improve the discoverability and sharing of apps. For example, locally relevant content and monetization options are often missing. Adding social discovery, personalization, and recommendation features are key to improving the user experience.
However, app stores have already had a dramatic impact on the distribution of games and are starting to offer new forms of engagement between brands and consumers. Consumer usage of the most popular mobile apps has exploded in the past two years. A third of European online consumers ages 18+ who own a smartphone are using apps daily or more frequently. Seventeen percent are using apps several times a day. Stickiness and frequency of usage vary tremendously from one app category to the other. Among European online consumers ages 18+ with installed apps on their smartphones, 57% use social networking and 48% use news apps at least daily, while 69% use finance and banking apps at least weekly.
First-generation apps — aside from gaming apps — rarely made the most of the unique attributes of the mobile platform and were rarely integrated with back-end systems. We believe the market is poised for a second wave of consumer apps that are more personalized and contextual. Here’s what to expect:
■ “Big data” will enable more contextual experiences on mobile apps.
■ We'll see smarter, connected apps.
■ There will be a shift from native to hybrid and web apps.