We may not have hit peak app, as Walt Mossberg once contended, but we seem to have hit a ceiling on the amount of new app activity, as well as the developers who make them. Though enterprises continue to discover new reasons to build apps, the once frenetic era of "there's an app for that" seems to have finally concluded, as new data from appFigures suggests.
How many apps do you really need?
Though Apple's App Store was the first to hit one million apps back in 2013, Google now trumps with 2.81 million active apps, compared to Apple's 2.26 million, according to appFigures data. Between the two major app stores, 2016 saw the biggest number of new apps in history: 2.4 million.
If you're scratching your head on how the app stores add 2.4 million new apps in a year, yet only have 5 million apps total, remember that over 1.5 million apps have ended up in the app graveyard, according to Branch Metrics, as developers give up on trying to get their apps noticed in such a crowded market.
This may also be contributing to the slowing growth in new app releases.
Comparing this to 2015, however, appFigures' Chantelle St. Clair concluded: "[I]t's obvious things are starting to slow down." Over the last few years, both Apple and Google have added at least 1 million apps per year to their respective app stores. Unfortunately, they're also seeing large numbers of apps abandoned.
Can you spare this developer a dime?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the new app developer population has also seemed to plateau.
To be clear, appFigures counts the number of developers associated with an app release, which is not an accurate representation of the overall mobile app developer population. Evans Data pegged that population at 12 million, or more than half the overall developer population (of 21 million). As mobile has become the primary channel for engaging consumers, developers have flocked to it.
So, in 2016 more than 412,000 new app developers released their first app, according to appFigures. A significant percentage of these will give up after a few years, but enough will build sustainable businesses that we'll see the overall mobile app developer population continue to swell.
What will they build?
For iOS, Shopping is the big winner, growing 3X over the last year (while doubling on Android). This is also the biggest category for new developers releasing their first apps. Magazines and Newspapers came in second on iOS, while Photography and Music took the top spots on the Google Play store.
All of which suggests that we'll see a healthy future for mobile apps as enterprises try to figure out how best to engage their increasingly mobile customers. For some, an app-only approach is ideal. For others, web will dominate. But for most brands, the answer is web-plus-app, an answer that we're nowhere near tapping out.
- Why an app-focused strategy could lead to mobile failure (TechRepublic)
- No one downloads apps anymore: True or false? (TechRepublic)
- Your app strategy is probably going to fail. Here's how to fix it (TechRepublic)
- Does there need to be an app for that? (TechRepublic)
- Retail is fast becoming an app-eat-app world (TechRepublic)
Matt is currently head of the developer ecosystem at Adobe. The views expressed are his own, not those of his employer.
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.