More than 50bn downloads; in excess of 900,000 apps; and over $10bn paid to developers. It’s fair to say apps have become very big business in the five years since Apple opened its AppStore.
Back then, on 10 July 2008, there were just 500 apps available, none of which starred any birds – angry or otherwise – and while the 10m downloads in the first weekend alone may have hinted at what was to come, the exponential growth in the app market has nevertheless been quite staggering.
Today, more than 800 apps are downloaded from the AppStore every second. And that’s just Apple’s slice of the app market: Google, owner of the rival Android OS, has already overtaken Apple on monthly downloads, with 2.5bn from Google Play versus 2bn on the AppStore, and is expected to usurp Apple’s crown for the most app downloads ever before the end of the year. However, this proliferation of apps has created one of the market’s biggest problems.
"Discovery, with 900,000 apps in the market, is a challenge and getting your app into that top 25 or top 10 where organic growth can take over is the gold at the end of the rainbow," says James Chandler, head of mobile at Mindshare.
"App seeding in media terms is now a huge business. Some big brand apps are spending in excess of a million a month on app seeding in various stores versus development costs of anywhere between £50,000 and £200,000. I don’t think we thought it would get like that back when there were just 500 apps in the AppStore."
The app revolution
"Five years ago if you asked someone what apps they had on their phone, they’d reel off a list of the five apps they had. Today, we need to group our apps in folders just to keep track of them all," says Rachelle Thompson, strategist at digital agency TH_NK.
Fundamentally apps serve to transform your phone into almost anything you can conceive, whether that’s an e-reader, a camera, or a games console. Whatever the requirement, as Apple’s 2009 campaign told us: "There’s an app for that".
The pace at which the app market exploded led many marketers to exhibit the same mistaken behaviour seen during the rise of social media.
"In that sense apps have been hugely disruptive," says
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pace at which the app market exploded led many marketers to exhibit the same mistaken behaviour that was seen during the rise of social media.
Thompson talks about a "gap in understanding", which leads companies to develop the wrong kind of app for their brand. "It’s similar to what happened with Facebook where people thought they had to be on it just because it’s really big. You see the same with branded app development, where people felt they absolutely had to have an app, without really thinking about its function," she says.
Apps for all
Which brings us back to the problem of discovery - with so many apps out there, and the cost to get yours noticed becoming prohibitive for all but the biggest brands, has the app market had its day from a branded content perspective, made unattainable by virtue of its own success?
Thompson doesn’t think so. "Apps are accessible to anyone – you don’t have to spend lots of money; people expect much more sophisticated content when it comes to games but they’re happy for functional apps to be simple," she says.
"The trick is to make sure that you’re interacting with your customers in the manner in which they perceive your brand: I don’t want to play a game with my supermarket but I do want a streamlined mobile shopping experience. It’s all about servicing your customers – if your aim is to get your app in the top 25 purely as a strategy then that is going to be increasingly difficult and cost lots of money."
For now there is little reason for Apple to be unduly concerned about the ramifications of being overtaken by Google – after all, 800 downloads a second isn’t exactly a consolation prize. The development of HTML5 may pose more of a threat in the long term but the likelihood for the foreseeable future is that web apps will be developed alongside platform-specific apps.
The first five years of the AppStore represents the infancy of this now-huge global market and the trick now for marketers and brands is to develop more sophisticated ways of working with developers and interacting with consumers, something Thompson expects to see happen in the relative short-term.
The trick now for marketers is to develop more sophisticated ways of working with developers and interacting with consumers.
"In the next two years I imagine people will start to look at the model of payment cost and in-app advertising and make that more sophisticated," she says. "Most of the big players in social media and online have been experimenting with the best way to interact with consumers. That hasn’t quite happened in AppStore yet but I think it inevitably will and the areas in which advertisers find they are getting the most interaction will be the areas they focus on and try to hone."
Brands are already becoming better at partnering with app developers. Chandler cites the example of Kleenex endorsing Sneezeman, a platform romp from Sensei Games and Modern Toss, which was able to go free as a result of the endorsement, instantly propelling it to the number two slot in the free download chart. "To seed an app to number two would cost hundreds of thousands and the Kleenex deal was worth nowhere near that," says
"We’re increasingly looking at ways to partner with developers. Companies like [Angry Birds developer] Rovio are the media owners of tomorrow. They haven’t worked out how to work with brands and agencies and we haven’t quite worked out how to work with them yet, but it’s going to be big focus for us in the second half of the year to figure out how to become more sophisticated in that regard."