​Making your app stand out is only going to get harder as user interest 'mellows'

Revenue from app stores is still forecast to grow in the coming years, but developers may find it tougher to stand out as users settle on preferred apps.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Smartphone owners in mature markets are increasingly happy with the apps they've got and may be less inclined to experiment with new ones in the future, according to a new study.

Getting your app noticed in Google's and Apple's crowded app stores, which host well over a million apps each, is already a tough challenge for app makers.

But finding consumers who are willing to experiment with new apps could become a lot more challenging in the future, according to a new study by analyst firm Gartner.

The company surveyed 2,000 app users in Germany and the US - both considered mature markets - for its report Market Trends: Mobile App Adoption Matures as Usage Mellows. It found that they're by and large content with the apps they now use.

Consumers are still regularly using their social network and video apps, suggesting that consumers have integrated apps into their work and leisure routines, according to the report. Meanwhile, fitness apps, which are used by no more than 23 percent of people in the two countries, still had high levels of engagement, with 70 percent of respondents who used those apps interacting with them on a weekly basis or more frequently.

In other words, there's no existential threat to the app category itself, however Gartner believes that engagement with apps may have reached a plateau and that users are interested in "keeping the status quo".

This could spell trouble for app product managers who want to break into users' established app consumption patterns.

"It's not that smartphone users have lost interest in apps. Users remain excited about what apps can do for them in their daily lives, including for work and non-work app scenarios," said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.

"However, app users need to be convinced about the value of the app. Their willingness for new app experiences is open-ended, but their plan is to keep their same patterns of use. Users will try new apps, but they need to be convinced of an app's value before they adopt them and change use patterns over the long term."

Developers have numerous marketplaces to monetise their apps, though as Gartner notes, Apple's app store is often perceived as the better money maker, followed by the Google Play app store.

Apple recently teamed up with Pinterest to offer new ways of discovering apps and ultimately to ensure the money keeps flowing through to developers. According to Apple, developers earned $10bn through its store last year, while Google said the Play store earned them $7bn.

Gartner notes, however, that in early 2015 there were over 200 separate Android app stores, many of them in China.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's app store lacks interest from developers, though the analyst firm expects that to change with the advent of Windows 10 and universal apps.

A report due out on Tuesday from App Annie and analyst firm IDC offers a brighter outlook for developers, with the companies forecasting that revenues from Google Play and Apple's app store will double by 2018.

Compared to the equivalent report last year, developers in the US and UK were earning a greater share of their overall revenue from in-app advertising. For example, in 2013 half of revenues in the UK came from app stores whereas in 2014, 68 percent came from in-app advertising. In Germany, the trend was opposite, with revenues from app stores growing from 60 percent to 68 percent, making it similar to Japan and Russia, where app store revenues dominated consistently over the two periods.

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