Why It’s the Best and Worst of Times for App and Game Designers

It’s easy to forget how, just a few short years ago, not everyone owned a smartphone or tablet. In a similar vein, social-media platforms such as Facebook once seemed like something used by a minority of people. Cast your memory even further back, and you can probably remember a time when laptops seemed a bit exotic.

But now all of these technologies are reaching a saturation point, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. Over the past two years, the percentages of Americans using cell-phones, smartphones, tablets, PCs, and the internet has leveled off after many years of explosive growth.

“Put simply, in some instances there just aren’t many non-users left. For example, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone,” Pew wrote in a note accompanying the data. “And a similar share of those in higher-income households have laptops or desktops.”

This is good and bad news for developers and tech pros who build apps for both mobile and the desktop. First, the good: The ubiquity of tablets, smartphones, laptops and broadband means that, no matter what you develop, there’s likely an audience out there for it. No longer should you fear (if you ever did) that your little game or app can’t potentially reach millions of folks in short order.

But here’s the downside: It’s notoriously difficult to make your product stand out in a mature, crowded market. Your little game is the best thing ever, you think; but how can you build any sort of audience when a million other developers are pushing similar games through the same narrow bottleneck of Google Play or Apple’s App Store? You can make a great product and kick off a comprehensive marketing campaign—but at a certain point, you’re a prisoner of luck.

Fortunately, the Pew study also hints that the next generation of devices—including voice-activated digital assistants—are enjoying a healthy rate of adoption. The organization’s 2017 study found that some 46 percent of Americans used digital assistants on either dedicated devices (such as Google Home or Amazon Echo) or their smartphones.

That adoption, combined with growing paths for monetization, means that developers who feel shut out of mobile and desktop have another avenue to explore for product creation. Wearables are another rapidly maturing category, one that could allow for the building of new and interesting apps. Many technology segments might be well-saturated, but there’s always something brand-new out there.

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