By Adrien Schmidt
More than a decade after the launch of the first mobile app ecosystem, we’ve reached a tipping point. Through the end of 2018 , there were more than an estimated 2 million apps each in both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. And those numbers were actually slight decreases from the year prior as older applications no longer supported on modern devices were removed.
For startups looking for a way to stand out or people in big data whose job it is to amplify the signal of their company’s apps, this represents a major challenge. When the market is flooded with options, a smaller percentage will be used. How do you stand out among so much competition, with new offerings launching every day?
The Shifting User Demographics Of App Stores
There are billions of smartphones on the planet, and their ubiquity (in many cases replacing home computers entirely) means app usage is at an all-time high. The growth curve of new users and increased time on smart devices has started to level off, meaning we’ve reached a period of competition for eyeballs and screen time, a battle that smaller developers and startups struggle more and more to win. In 2017, more than 178 billion apps were downloaded across all app stores, and in 2018, U.S. consumers spent an average of more than three hours per day with apps or web browsing on mobile devices and tablets.
How many apps are these people using to fill those three-plus hours a day? On average, it’s about nine per day and 30 every month. Hundreds of apps sit dormant on most smart devices, with as much as a third of user time devoted to social media apps. This has a big impact on the ability of a small, single-function app to penetrate the market and build enough of a user-base to thrive.
The All-In-One App Makes A Comeback
For this reason, developers are shifting gears to focus on how they can add new functionality to existing apps, making them more robust. How can a single app fulfill dozens of needs instead of just one?
Look at Facebook as an example. The Facebook app has 81% penetration on iOS and Android and offers not only basic newsfeed functions but a dedicated video tab, marketplace, groups tool and messenger integration (albeit through a second app). While many of these functions have existed on Facebook for some time, they’ve become more ubiquitous thanks to their integration in the mobile ecosystem.
WeChat in China is another prime example. Originally developed in 2011, the Tencent-developed app is a messaging, social media and mobile payments app that continues to add new functionality rather than spinning off separate applications. Available on all major phone operating systems, WeChat has more than a billion monthly active users and is available in 20 languages. In 2018, Charlie Munger even highlighted WeChat as a potential competitor to the three major credit card companies.
Leveraging AI To Enhance Existing Offerings
What makes WeChat such a phenomenally successful app is not just its large user base and integration of new features. It is how the app leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a true one-stop shop for users. This is something I’ve seen work successfully at my own company, where we’ve developed a personal analytics assistant using voice recognition technology that can be applied or implemented into already-loved apps.
Social media is the most commonly used category of app on mobile devices, and users use these apps’ messaging platforms heavily. These companies have integrated new technology that allows them to provide more robust, interactive services to their user base, peeling away users from other standalone apps. The idea is that there’s no reason to leave WeChat or Facebook to send a text message if your friends and family use the same messaging tools, and there’s no reason to open PayPal or Venmo if you can send money directly through your friend network.
The Next Stage In App Usage
Smart device users rely on apps for dozens of activities on a daily basis. They track their workouts, listen to music, plan trips, read email and watch television from the apps on their phones. This can be a challenge for new developers trying to tap into the massive population of smartphone users, or it can be an opportunity for those who are able to leverage the tools at their disposal to provide a more comprehensive experience.
We’re a long way off from returning to the days of feature-bloated desktop software, but we’re also transitioning out of a time when every app could and should only do one thing. By tapping into the potential offered by messaging systems as a platform for new apps, it is now possible to build customized, highly interactive experiences.