Somewhere between 2016 & 2017 we will likely hit “Peak App,” almost exactly 10 years since Apple introduced its first iPhone. It’s been an amazing run with an estimated 1+ million apps currently available on the iTunes store and another million on the Android platform. Billions of dollars have been made by a surprisingly small number of high-profile companies and a whole cottage industry of app developers popped up almost overnight. What’s less easy to gauge is the billions that have been spent (wasted/lost?) on apps that never lived up to expectations. So many marketers — including me — eagerly jumped onto the app bandwagon in large part because it was new and exciting. But how many of us actually saw a return on our App investments?
"I’ve stopped creating apps because the payout wasn’t worth the time and effort I put into coding the apps. I’ll have to say 99% of the app developers out there are not making money for the time and effort they put into the apps." - Austin Cha
The cold reality is that 99% of apps today are either dead or dying and many don’t even realize it yet. You can think of these as “Zombie Apps” because they are no longer living (i.e. generating significant interest, business or revenues) but they are not exactly dead either. Meanwhile, a few latecomers to the mobile Apps party (laggards & late adopters) are still keen to churn out their latest offering but the markets and users have already spoken. Barring a few notable exceptions like Pokemon Go, users aren’t necessarily clamoring for more apps on their already packed phones. Are you?
The latest figures clearly support this. A just-released report from Flurryshows that although mobile app usage is up a tame 11% YOY (vs. 58% in 2015), their growth is slowing and likely to show a first-ever overall decline in or around 2017. So what exactly happened?
App Burnout — The first few years of smart phones were exciting times. Remember when searching for & downloading apps was still fun? Today, our ever more powerful phones are bloated and stuffed with unused apps gathering digital dust. These days, I seem to spend more time trying to erase/delete apps from my phone than download new ones. Indeed, the novelty of apps has worn off.
Too Many Updates & Downloads — Let me guess: Your iPhone App Store icon probably shows a two-digit figure in the upper right corner right? Yes, that’s the almost constant indicator that your apps are in need of updates. So many updates… Trouble is I can’t be bothered and I know I’m not alone. To a similar, although lesser degree, I think many of us are getting tired of the whole downloading & updating ritual.
Changing Habits — We are spending more time on social and messaging app platforms. Almost all of a sudden the world is realizing that we are spending the vast majority of our smart phone time on just a handful of apps. Think Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Amazon, iTunes, Google, Uber, etc… Evidence? Actual time spent on these apps is up an incredible 394% YOY.
An Abundance of (Cr)Apps — With everyone jumping onto the App bandwagon, a flood of mediocre apps was almost inevitable. Unfortunately, User Experience (UX) and great design did not keep up with advances in app technologies, developers and tools. The result was a swarm of uninspiring and me-too apps.
Isolated , One-Trick-Ponies — With the proliferation of apps & technologies also came a fragmentation of offerings. Every new gadget or business idea had to have its own app. Hardly any of these would work within a larger ecosystem or play nice with other apps. You had an app to control your home security system, another for your thermostat, one for your running shoes, one for your bank, one for your favorite airline, one for your local pizza, Netflix, and on and on… Next thing you know, you had several dozens of apps to search through on your phone screens and none of these could ever work together.
There are certainly many other factors contributing to the demise of apps (Difficulty being found in an ocean of look-alikes, high cost of development, slowness in releasing updates,…). One of the most profound factors alluded to earlier is the massive shift towards social/conversational platforms like Messenger and AI-powered digital assistants like Alexa and Siri. Such platforms are capable of recognizing language (written or verbal) and performing tasks usually handled by multiple stand-alone apps. Under a single platform/app (such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat), you can already run games, mini-apps and thousands of chatbots. Best of all, interacting with these “umbrella” apps is as simple as having a traditional messaging conversation with almost no learning curve.
Bottom Line: If you are looking to create a new app or in the process of building one, think long and hard about how you will make it succeed in the face of declining app use and more discriminating consumers. You are potentially investing in a fading platform and could be throwing good money away if you are not really, really good at what you do. On the other hand, if you already have a sophisticated app with decent success, consider adding a conversational layer to it by creating a chatbot that can interface or interact with your app in the background. This alone could help give your app investment a boost and possibly another lease on life.
Last but not least, beware of anyone proclaiming the death or end of anything. Yes, that includes me. Real life is almost never as black-and-white or as simple as we imply. Apps — especially good ones — are not going to simply disappear. At least not anytime soon. They will, however, need to change, adapt and evolve into something else. The point here is that the tide is changing and ushering in a new era of conversational interactions between mobile users and businesses. The winners in this changing landscape will be the ones who can read the tea leaves and quickly adapt to the shifting winds.
At Medtech Mojo, we are developing a Healthcare-dedicated patient engagement platform that is based on the very latest Chatbot technologies and capabilities. With our combined 45+ years of Medtech & Pharma experience, Pascal Malengrez and I are creating a digital health platform that enables anyone across the Healthcare spectrum to quickly and easily create their own Health & Wellness Chatbot in mere hours. Zero programming required. To learn more or to register as one of the early Beta users, just visit MojoBots.
Andrew Hyncik is an International Strategic Marketing & Product Development veteran with 20+ years of experience in the Medtech, Healthcare, CPG and Pharma industries. For more Medtech insights, original articles or expert services, visit www.MedtechMojo.com
NOTE: For an opposing view on why apps are not in fact dead or dying check out this dated but interesting article.
Andrew Hyncik and Pascal Malengrez are International Strategic Marketing & Product Development leaders who amplify classical medtech marketing with digital startup thinking.