The “App Honeymoon” and What Happens Next

The recent comScore U.S. Mobile App report has dozens of insights on how people use their apps.  One striking insight is that although there is an active ecosystem of apps, people tend to use only a small handful of them on a regular basis.  While smartphone penetration is high, to the point that comScore says the majority of all digital media usage now occurs on mobile apps rather than on PCs, the number of apps in use per phone is small.

Why? There are a few opinions.

“Americans, it seems, are app'd out. Appathetic,” says Brian Anderson, Motherboard features editor.


Daisuke Wakabayashi writing for WSJD notes, “The data suggests that many smartphone users load up on apps when they first get a phone and then stop adding new ones.”

This might be closer to the reason. It could be there is a “honeymoon” phase when a person first buys their phone.  A rush of excitement to set the phone up with the apps they think they need, that replicate their desktop lifestyle, transitioning what they have done with their PC onto their phones. The question is…what about the mobile lifestyle?

Dan Frommer of Quartz writes, “Another likely reason is that it’s still not easy enough to find and download new apps…with users relying heavily on top-25 lists, a bad search engine, and few editorial features.” In this scenario, users aren’t able to find the right apps for them and are settling on what’s familiar and popular. Or is it that the right apps haven’t been developed yet?

But if app downloads aren’t so top-of-mind to consumers – and people who review phones for a living – why do they put so much weight in a platform’s app selection when comparing smartphones and tablets? And if consumers weren’t downloading a lot of apps, developers would have scaled back. They haven’t. For example, over just the past year, the number of Android apps increased 42 percent to about 1.35 million.

And as even more consumers and enterprises replace feature phones with smartphones, and smartphone owners supplement their media diets with tablets, this means there’s a huge opportunity for developers to: 

  1. Get better at defining their value to users in advance of their phone purchase, so users have their list of apps in advance versus relying on top 25 lists

  2. Create better strategies to give their apps greater awareness to increase the length of the post-“app honeymoon” phase

  3. Find the new emergent trends and develop apps for the near horizon

What to develop? Here are some ideas…

Wearables such as smart watches and fitness trackers are creating additional markets for apps. The wearable-app opportunity isn’t limited to the consumer market, either. For example, Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow Airport staff wear smart glasses and smart watches so they can provide passengers with personalized service, such as greeting them by name.

Cars are another example of how the app market will grow. ABI Research says that by 2019, over 24 million vehicles will have Apple’s CarPlay. “With Apple on the scene, it certainly draws greater attention to in-car apps, and now with the Android Auto standard on the scene, both will certainly drive adoption of in-car apps,” ABI says.

Here are several things developers can do to grab their share of the app opportunity:

  • Leverage 4G LTE.  Enable consumers and businesspeople to do things on smartphones, tablets and wearables that weren’t practical or even possible with 3G. When those things are the kinds of abilities and experiences that people find they can’t live without, they’re unlikely to abandon the apps that enable them.
  • Create gateways. Some of the most popular apps are ones that connect people to a service they already love or depend on. The comSCORE apps study found that radio, games and social networking together make up nearly half of all the time spent on mobile apps. The study also points out that 9 of the top 10 apps are gateway apps -- Facebook, Pandora, YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Apple Maps and Yahoo Stocks. This suggests there is ample opportunity for developers who create apps that provide a better gateway to a popular service in those categories than the one that comes from the company providing that service. Another opportunity is to create custom apps for vendors, such as CRM providers, that don’t want to hire staff just to create and maintain those gateways to their services.
  • Find missed opportunities. People do a lot of other things besides listen to streaming radio, play games and social network. So why are the most widely used apps in just those three categories? One reason is because developers haven’t yet created apps that make it easy or fun for people to do other things on a smartphone, tablet or wearable device. Instagram is a notable exception that serves as inspiration to developers. It was initially launched as a mobile-only photo sharing app and only later was a Web-based component added to the service. The combination of photos and social networking, as an alternative to Facebook, created behavior change among millions of consumers and today – with about 150 million users – it is the only app on ComSCORE’s list of top 10 apps that is not a gateway app. When developers start by looking at things that people currently try to do from a mobile browser, PC or other devices, and then develop an app that provides a superior user experience, there’s an opportunity to win big.
  • Get moving. The biggest opportunities involve work and play activities where people aren’t sitting still – such as fitness and field force automation – because those are a natural fit for mobile devices. In fact, the apps that currently get the most usage center around activities where users are sitting still, such as gaming. This means that a lot of activities are under- or un-served by mobile apps, creating ample opportunities for developers with “mobility apps.”    

Developers have to find innovative new ways to make their apps stand out and then stick. By leveraging new technologies such as 4G LTE, helping pioneer new devices such as wearables and identifying missed opportunities in existing consumer and business sectors, savvy developers can have the best of times for a long time, way beyond the honeymoon.