Welcome to the Apps Culture. Two years ago, it was a blip. Since then, developers have built a $2 billion market around it. The think tankers at the Pew Research Center have studied it; the trend watchers at The Nielsen Co. are tracking it. If you haven’t embraced it yet, you probably will, since ultimately every smartphone user on the planet is expected to buy into it.
Apps move e-commerce off the Web and onto a more secure mobile Internet platform. They cut through the clutter of domain-name servers and uncalibrated information sources, taking the user straight to the content he or she already values. App downloads have been selling like gangbusters to millions of smartphone users who prefer the one-click convenience of secure paid services (think iTunes) over the Web’s arcane universal resource locators (URLs), where spammers, identity thieves, cons and malware lurk.
“Apps are in many ways micro Web browsers. With the rise of cloud computing, open APIs [application programming interfaces] and wireless broadband, apps serve as concentrators, into one neat form factor, of all that used to only be accessible from a Web browser,” said Andy Abramson, co-host of ”World Technology Round Up” and a representative of the Wireless Life-Sciences Alliance through his role as CEO of marketing consultancy Comunicano Inc. (Del Mar, Calif.). “Over the next five years, we will see more and more apps being deployed, especially as LTE, Mobile WiMax and Wi-Fi become more pervasive.”
|The Apps Culture population will grow from about 300 million today to almost 1 billion by 2013.
The stakes are huge. The worldwide smartphone app market will top $2 billion this year and soar to $15 billion by 2013, predicts Research2guidance (Berlin). Apple’s App Store alone offers 250,000 apps and is serving up downloads at a rate of 6 billion per year; the Android Market is brimming over with 100,000 apps and 1 billion downloads. Other smartphone app stores aren’t far behind; GetJar (San Mateo, Calif.) today offers more than 60,000 apps. Chetan Sharma Consulting (Issaquah, Wash.) predicts that total mobile app downloads will jump to 50 billion by 2012.
Nielsen (New York) recently released results confirming the emergence almost overnight of a 100 million strong “apps culture,” with 82 percent of U.S. adults now having a cell phone and 35 percent using a smartphone with apps. According to Nielsen, app users hail from all walks of life but are skewed toward younger, more affluent, better educated males; users in that group have downloaded a mean of 18 apps and open some of those apps multiple times per day.
Nielsen found that consumers are quickly switching away from Web pages and toward apps as their preferred way to access the Internet. Available apps run the gamut of interests, but users’ favorites, in order of popularity, are games, news/weather, maps/navigation, social networking and music, according to Nielsen.
Besides gaming, the next most profitable commercial apps today are ones that connect users with valued content for which they are willing to pay extra later. For instance, Major League Baseball’s popular At Bat 2010 app costs $6.99 to download but requires an additional $99 payment to unlock unlimited live game videos (otherwise, you are limited to the game of the day). After the initial, low-cost download, annual user fees can exceed $100 for apps like the Netflix and Hulu mobile video services.
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Such offerings are proliferating as developers flock to the potentially lucrative business model of apps within apps. Expect to see an explosion of apps for TV series, radio stations, sports, games and every conceivable pastime, including next-generation apps that aren’t possible on other platforms. One offering that’s already providing a glimpse of the app-immersed future is Sekai Camera, a social networking app that uses geotagging and smartphone cameras to let users leave—and retrieve—virtual reviews and comments at real-world locales.