Feb 15, 2013

Exploring the mobile app landscape

The recent trend of burgeoning mobile apps has piqued my interest in the last few weeks. Though I'm late into the smartphone segment as a consumer, it's quite interesting to observe the market dynamics, especially in India.

First, a few statistics that might be of interest:

   * 70% of India's population has mobile phones
   * According to the latest Mary Meeker's Internet trends report, the smartphones user base is just around 4% of overall mobile phone users. In China, the smartphone user base is around 24% and globally, this segment is around 17%.
   * Though the previous data point may not be encouraging, the smartphone subscriber base in India has grown by 52% in 2012 as compared to 2011
   * Only 12% of India's population are Internet users
   * Mobile Internet usage has surpassed desktop Internet usage in May 2012

From a demand perspective, the smartphone user base is growing and as a result, the need for innovative and useful applications is also on the rise. From the supply side, a lot of action is already happening in the mobile application development space. Android's marketplace Google Play has around 675,000 apps and Apple's app store has more than 700,000 apps available for download.

This supply-demand situation poses quite a few questions and challenges:

  1. Do users get what they want?
  2. Are users aware how they can leverage the apps that are available in the marketplaces?
  3. Are app developers able to market their idea/app to their target segment in an affordable way?

The first 2 questions are from the consumers' point of view. There is a problem of app discovery that has to be solved. Sifting through the loads of apps that are available in the marketplace and finding the one that you want might seem like a horrendous task.

These two statements that I came across summarizes the problem clearly:

From cnet
"both consumers and application retailers need to figure out a better way to surface the best content and weed out the useless stuff."

From Tim Bray's blog
"there are nuggets of gold among all the dross, things that would enrich buyers’ lives and developers’ wallets if they could only get noticed. "

Will an app search engine solve this problem? There are a few such mobile app search tools that are available such as quixey, appsfire and uquery
Will a business model similar to that of Google search evolve in this case? Sponsored apps similar to SEM? Mobile app optimization similar to SEO?

The third question is from the developers' point of view - the problem of app distribution. Presently, most of the smartphone users choose an app based on editor picks in their respective marketplaces, top downloads/ratings or based on third party reviews.

For a new developer building a niche mobile app, the only way to get the first few downloads is to take the viral route and market it through his/her social circle. Word-of-Mouth has been the main source through which consumers share their favorite apps with friends/family. In most of the social apps (Instagram for instance), the virality is built into the product. The most popular categories of mobile apps fall under games, music, social networking and productivity. The app development teams are incorporating collaboration, sharing, interaction and other gamification aspects into the apps to spread the word and thereby, increase the visibility for their respective apps.

I plan to explore further on the app distribution aspect which is the crucial element in app discovery from a consumers' point of view. This seems like an interesting and challenging problem. I'll continue to share my thoughts and learnings as I read up further on the overall landscape. Meanwhile, feel free to share your comments or thoughts on the whole mobile app eco-system.

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