Despite Mobile Usage, Developers Face Huge Challenges

At least 70 percent of smartphone users download at least one app per month, according to analytics firm App Annie.

“On the whole, people are still looking for new apps to add to their arsenal,” App Annie wrote in the report breaking down the data. “As mobile becomes more central to more industries, users will continue to be open to integrating new apps into their lives.”

In the United States, some 20 percent of smartphone users are spending roughly four hours per day using apps. That’s significant—but it doesn’t mean app developers are necessarily benefitting.

Late last year, for example, marketing service Appboy crunched some numbers and concluded that, within 90 days of an app’s release, only 5 percent of users are still opening it. App Annie has also reported that the average time to maturity (i.e., when downloads level off) for new games has declined to 17 weeks; and Adobe estimated in 2015 that the average app fades from the marketplace after six months.

That grab-bag of stats should make one thing clear to app developers: an app’s time is often extremely limited, even for hit products such as last summer’s “Pokemon Go.” Many developers are compensating for apps’ relatively short lifespan by introducing subscriptions and in-app purchases, both of which can deliver (at least in theory) a continual stream of revenue. Given the constant fight for users’ attention, though, even new models are no guarantee of an app’s long-term survival.

And although smartphones aren’t going away anytime soon, developers need to keep an eye on the evolution of voice-activated digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. As those platforms become more ubiquitous, thanks to a variety of “smart” speakers and other devices, a lot of app-based functionality may migrate to these new platforms. In turn, that may squeeze developers of certain categories of productivity and reference apps in the long term.

So in many ways, it’s the best of times for app developers, with smartphone users clearly in the mood to download a variety of software. But at the same time, the pressures on revenue and usage are harder than ever.