I’m sure there’s a crystal ball app out there in the app stores somewhere, but I’m not convinced that any predictions that it makes will be based on anything concrete. So, perhaps it’s better to look at a few statistics, surveys and collective knowledge of some industry experts (including my own) to try and make some thoughtful prophecies about the future of mobile apps.
Well, firstly, apps are here to stay. That’s a bit of a no-brainer perhaps, but I think that is something that we can all be pretty sure about from the start. For as long as there are smartphones there will be apps. And I think it’s fair to say that smartphones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
We love apps. Of course we do. They’re brilliant little creations. Perfectly compact, no matter what their primary function – be they for playing games, for banking, for making payments, for social media, for cooking, for learning, for spelling, for organising, for note taking, for mapping, whatever – apps very neatly segment our smartphones (and tablets for that matter) into little square nuggets of activity, and indeed are the very things that make our smartphones smart, otherwise they’d just be phones, right.
Yes. Apps are here, and they’re here to stay. At the time of writing, according to AppBrain, there are precisely 1,486,367 Android apps in the market.
But what about the rest? Well, statista.com have some figures from July last year. At this point the Apple App Store had roughly 1.2 million available apps, the Windows Phone Store had 300,000, the Amazon Appstore had 240,000, and Blackberry World had 130,000.
Altogether that means that there are currently at least 3.3 million available apps on the market across the various outlets worldwide. This is a strong market indeed, and one that is only set to grow and grow and grow as we move forward.
What About The Future?
Well, this is where things start to get interesting. Apps are great, but they do have their limitations. For instance, compared to the World Wide Web, there is definitely a glass ceiling to break through. The internet is practically infinite. We’ve established already that there are currently around about 3.3 million apps available. But, at the time of writing, there are nearly 3 times as many websites. In fact, if you head over to internetlivestats.com then you can watch the number grow and grow and grow and grow in real time. At this precise second there are 932,669,121 websites online right now. And by the time I get to the end of this sentence, that number has already grown to 932,670,014.
(Incidentally, it may interest you to know that the world did reach the milestone of 1 billion websites in September 2014, although the number did decline “due to the monthly fluctuations in the count of inactive websites.” However, the number of websites is expected to exceed 1 billion again this year, and stabilize above that number sometime in 2016.)
Put simply, apps will never be able to rival the web in the infinitesimal way that websites do (and in fact there is an argument that web apps will actually one day overtake native apps in terms of usage and popularity – see our recent blog ‘Will Web Apps Overtake Native Apps?’ for more on this). Each of these 1 billion odd websites are unique in some way, and they are nearly all accessible via a web browser. According to Nielsen research, 84% of people use less than 10 apps on a daily basis (despite the average person having 42 apps downloaded on their phones), and head to the web to do the rest.
Indeed, even most mobile apps need the internet to keep up to date and fully functional. And in fact perhaps this is one prediction that we can make about their future – app data will be stored locally.
At the moment, a lot of apps need to check in with the cloud on a regular basis to retrieve information. But, as smartphones and the like are developed with increasingly powerful storage capacities, then more and more data that accompanies an app will be able to reside in the phone itself, meaning that the need to connect to the cloud will most likely become less frequent.
Basically, apps will become more powerful as smartphones do, and this will lead to greater functionality and we are sure to see some truly innovative examples emerging that will exploit this.
5 Predictions For The Future Of Mobile Apps
So, you can have that last prediction for free, and here’s 5 more. First up…
Wearable Technology Apps
With the release of the long awaited Apple Watch, the wearable technology segment is almost guaranteed to start to take off in a way that we simply haven’t seen it do so before.
The wearable technology revolution – especially wearables that are designed to help improve health, well-being and fitness – has been coming for some time. In fact there are already millions and millions of sports enthusiasts out there who have been riding the wearables wave for years. With fitness trackers, sleep trackers, wearable cameras and smartwatches, fitness fans have been strapping on the technology and pushing themselves further, faster and harder.
But, there’s one thing that nearly all of these wearable devices have in common – in order to work, they need to be synced with an app on a smart device (or desktop) of some sort. Whilst up until now, however, the market for wearables has mainly been located in the world of sports, with the release of the Apple Watch that is almost guaranteed to change.
Apple, of course, are a very large and powerful mainstream consumer brand, which, love them or hate them, have extremely significant market influence. And it won’t be long now until we start seeing swathes and swathes of Apple devotees peacocking around town with the latest offering from the technology giant strapped to their wrists. They will be at once a fashion statement, a status symbol and the catalyst that will no doubt kick off the wearable technology revolution proper. Not least, perhaps, because, for as many people as there are who love Apple, they are even more who hate them. And it is highly likely that these detractors will head out and start making protest purchases of smartwatches that have been developed by Apple’s rivals. Either way, this clearly outlines a pathway for a future for more and more wearable technology apps.
Beacons, Beacons, Beacons
Beacons (or iBeacons) have only been around for a little more than a year, and, as such, they haven’t yet quite been accepted by the mainstream. But this is almost certain to change. As smart technology continues to rise, and the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to spread its techy tendrils farther and wider into all manner of different objects, beacons are set to be the direct link between retailers (and other businesses) and consumers – or rather those consumers’ smartphones.
Put simply, beacons are a brilliant tool for marketers. The ability to send personalized push notifications to customers via apps as they browse stores to give them added contextual meaning to their consumer journeys is simply remarkable. And, what is more, the data that these apps will collect will be absolutely invaluable to marketers and big data scientists for a long long time to come.
And it won’t just be stores – Miami International Airport, for instance, are using beacons in a rather innovative way to provide travellers with up-to-date information as they make their way through the terminal. And there will surely be more and more of these beacon/app partnerships to come.
Yes, with the massive increase in mobile browsing and business apps, combined with the fact that mobile payment security is continuously being improved and users are starting to trust it more and more, then mobile is surely set to start making more significant waves in e-commerce spending.
I predict that more and more brand stores and chains will start producing their own apps, which are capable of scanning barcodes or other machine-readable codes, in order to provide better information about the products on the shelves to consumers via their smartphones. Some of these will no doubt make use of augmented reality (AR), but, frankly, I don’t see this type of technology really taking off for another 5 years or even a decade yet.
But, more than that, with things like Apple Pay and other digital wallets, and the likes of the Starbucks app that lets users load cash onto an account and be scanned at a register – mobile sales, I’m sure, will be the new metric by which we compare the successes of brands in the years that come, and apps will be the enablers of this change.
Even More Personalised
One of the main app marketing strategies that companies are ploughing a lot of effort into is geo-targeted push notifications. This level of personalisation is very appealing to consumers, and research suggests that it is proving to work. Localytics produce a very neat infographic, which I reproduce for you here, that reveals that targeted push notifications can double app open rates and as much as triple app conversion rates.
Tailored messaging will be used more and more to personalise communications with consumers based on their demographic data, their location, their browsing history and their purchasing history.
With 1.39 billion users and rising, we can hardly say that Facebook has had its day yet. But, more and more, people are trying to claw back some of their dignity which they’ve lost over the last few years by broadcasting to the world every move they’ve ever made on social, by moving to more private online communities like Whisper and Kik.
These so-called ‘dark-social’ environments, and the apps that support them, I think will become more and more popular as time goes by. We’ve had a decade now creating numerous public shrines to ourselves on Facebook and the like, and I think the next decade will be slightly more dignified as people start to revalue their anonymity a little more.