Could the mobile app market just be yet another bubble, poised to burst when we least expect it? Or will bigger and better apps keep coming out and capturing everyone’s attention, solidifying this industry’s powerhouse status?
More than any sector in recent memory, the mobile app economy is exploding. Ten years ago, people weren’t convinced that smartphones would be stick, according to Cnet — it’s generous to call what was around at that point “smart.” Just eight years ago, the app store hadn’t even been invented yet.
Apps make up what has become a very popular medium, but how many of the thousands of them that are produced each day truly shine? There are relatively few big winners, most of them in the social media realm. But the technology used to create these mobile programs is constantly evolving, and more and more apps now have the opportunity to woo niche audiences.
This trend is likely to continue, but how many apps will grow to become popular in the long-term? How about, “entire 21st century” long-term?
It’s a big chunk of time, to be sure, but we can make some guesses. One thing that’s certain is that both apps and the process that are going to become even more personalized, localized, and consumer-driven. Rather than making a few apps stretch to work for everyone, it’s likely that we’ll see millions of individual apps work flawlessly for specific communities and audiences.
A Long Way Up
Admittedly, making an 84-year prediction is a challenge — for all we know, we’ll have actually become smartphones by then. But luckily, we have some guideposts to help at least put us somewhere in the ballpark.
As of last October, there have been over 100 billion app downloads, according to Statista, with 40,000 totally new apps adding to the existing 3.1 million apps inside Apple’s App Store and Google Play app markets each month. This represents a huge vertical growth, but it doesn’t even account for the medium’s rapid expansion across global audiences. Ericsson predicts that there will be 6.4 billion smartphone subscriptions by 2021, almost 80% of which will be driven by growth in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East, and Africa — areas where smartphones are enabling first-time internet adoption.
The primary reason for this uptick? Smartphones are rapidly becoming affordable, which means that apps are becoming more accessible to wider swaths of the global population.
An Even Longer Tail
This is fueling the long tail of the app economy, where individuals and small business have increasing control over personalized app development. In the early-stage app economy (much like the first web boom in the late ‘90s), successful apps cost thousands of developer dollars and months of refinement to launch: the results were groundbreaking, monolithic apps like Angry Birds and Uber.
But today, small businesses — 80% of which use mobile daily for business, as eMarketer explains — are interested in how apps can power their business. Not surprisingly, a new generation of affordable, DIY app-publishing platforms have emerged in response, including AppMakr, MIT’s App Creator, and Appcelerator.
This DIY model already has a strong online precedent for web publishers. Services such as WordPress, Wix, SquareSpace, and Tumblr currently host over 300 million self-published pages, collectively. If the number of DIY-developed apps reaches a similar figure, it will have grown by more than 100 times its present size.
But the app market is larger than it seems at first glance, extending well beyond the realms of the IoS and Google Play stores. Already, app purchasing has diffused across literally dozens of alternative, regional, local, niche, and DIY app markets — Opera and Nexva are two popular examples. Consumer app choice is becoming highly democratic.
As of this writing, our own AppMakr market contains over 2.5 million apps, a larger share than that of either Google Play or the App Store. And they’re all self-realized, self-funded, DIY apps, suiting a particular audience for a specific purpose.
So, how many popular apps can we expect in the 21st century? It may be better to ask, how many people will be using apps? How many needs will there be?
How long is a piece of string?
It’s a safe bet that there will be hundreds of millions, each empowering a specific business, community, market, or individual. And app distribution will look little like the monopoly held by the app stores of today — the distance to creation will be much shorter, extending only from one person with an idea to their own, personalized digital workbench.
This blog post is adapted from an answer originally posted on Quora.
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