In March, Yahoo! made a UK teenager a multimillionaire after they bought his mobile app Summly. Yahoo’s ridiculous acquisition spree proves the value of apps when it comes to customers – from the billion dollars it spent on Tumblr to the $50 million it spent on film app Qwiki, everything the Web portal giant has done since Marissa Mayer took over a year ago is focused around mobile.
This mobile-first policy makes sense from every angle. Mobile App Revenues exceeded $30 billion by the end of 2012, double the figure of 2011. According to a survey of CTOs & CIOs by Crittercism, 50% of companies see developing a B2C app as the top priority, no doubt in an effort to get their hands on this cash. And possibly to keep the workers happy; VMware found almost 40% of UK workers would quit their organisation if they couldn't use their mobile devices for work, and almost 70% feel the powers that be don’t supply the mobile tools and applications they need.
What a Developer Wants
But what about the developers themselves? PHP tools vendor Zend conducted a study and found Mobile is now the top priority for corporate app builders- 91% of developers plan to deliver content and services to a mobile audience this year, up almost a third on the year before.
And what are they developing for? For the most part it’s a toss-up between Android and iOS. A report by VisionMobile found that Android was the most used platform everywhere except Oceania, with iOS a close second worldwide (with the exception of Africa & LATAM, where HTML5 took silver). When asked why, iOS was cited mostly for potential revenue and reach through its app store, while both Android & HMTL5 had low cost & development times.
Appcelerator did a similar study, looking at interest in developing for different operation systems and types of device over time. It found that interest was highest for iOS, with interest in both the iPhone & iPad equal, while interest in developing for Android tablets was notably lower than Android mobiles. Again HTML5 was third, well ahead of the competition. Obviously the possible financial rewards of creating apps for the, generally more affluent, iPad user is irresistible to developers.
The report also found the average mobile developer surveyed writes his or her apps for 2.5 operating systems, most likely iOS, Android and then HTML5, which means there’s very little room for anyone else in the race for 3rd. Blackberry has had a notoriously sparse app offering for years, and after the dismal BB10 results, it’s hard to see this changing in the future. Windows currently has 100,000 apps in its store (small fry compared to the 900,000+ in Apple’s and Google’s) and currently struggling to gain momentum, with many developers rating it low down in their list of priorities. However, since the Windows phone is predicted to be giving iOS a run for its money by 2016, it might still attract more developers. Steve Ballmers & co. just have to be wary of a lack of apps putting off customers, which in turn puts off developers, and causes a downward spiral leading to a developer ghost town.
Nothing stays the same in the world of mobile for long though. And with the first Firefox shipping recently along with the upcoming Ubuntu phones due next year, plus Samsung’s Tizen bound to be pushed heavily by the electronics giant, the OS & device priority landscape may well look very different next year.
What users Want
-Don’t Be a Sneaky Data Hoover
With the NSA revelations, it’s highly likely privacy will be a big deal from now on. Not just in making sure your data is secure from prying eyes, but also in that you don’t ask for too much. Private search engine DuckDuckGo has seen tremendous growth since the story broke because it doesn’t keep any data about its users or what they search. Jay-Z’s recent ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ app offered you an album for free, but wanted the data equivalent of your soul in return, and was rightly criticised for it. Getting the balance right in what you ask for is critical.
In Washington, a new voluntary standard has been set up to create a new “at-a-glance” privacy notice; upon downloading an app, two standardized screens that tells you all the data the app wants and who it would be shared with. Apparently this has taken months of wrangling between various groups, which is shocking when you realize how simple the idea is. Even if you don’t adopt the standard, being honest and upfront about what you want is always the best policy.
Despite the hullabaloo over malware-laden ads that block our enjoyment of Angry Birds, people won’t pay for ad-free apps. Flurry crunched the numbers, and found 90% of apps in Apple’s app store are free, up from 84% the year before, and Android users are even less likely to pay for apps. But before you panic about how to make money, never fear. Distimo has found that almost 70% of total iPhone app revenue comes from Freemium apps, with just a quarter coming from the paid variety. Even if a chunk of it is from unauthorized toddlers scamming their parents.
As contactless payment/security become more commonplace, support for Near Field Communication (NFC) will need to become more common. Around 31% of mobile app developers worldwide currently support NFC, and an additional 45% intend to provide support by next year. While it may be hard to see how to incorporate the technology into your app, there’s always a security element to add, whether it’s an ID card or NFC ring.
Whether it’s cheap Android devices, Firefox phones, or the rumoured budget iPhones, emerging markets the world over are getting their hands on smartphones. And so localization is the next logical step for apps. But there’s more to it than merely throwing the text through a translator – you need to understand the local landscape; culture, payments, regulation, available infrastructure and resources. There’s no point having super HD videos as standard if the country has little or no 3 or 4G available, or unaffordable high data usage fees for most people.
-Don’t forget feature phones
While now being outsold by their smarter cousins, feature phones are still a significant minority in the world, to the tune of 900 million phones – that’s a lot of people your app isn’t reaching. Not all feature phones can access the web, but many can, and even if you attract a tiny portion, you could still gain an audience of millions. Facebook has around 100 million basic feature phone users, and is pushing its Facebook For Every Phone app in an effort to capture more. Obviously the apps have to be scaled down to the most basic functionality, but if the core usability of the app is sound, this shouldn’t be a problem.
The Future: Apps & Wearable Tech
Feature phones, however, are inevitably on the way out. The future of apps truly lies within the realms of wearable tech. Google Glass is the device gaining the most hype, and with other smart glasses from various developers on the way, what they come up with in terms of ‘Glassware’ will have big repercussions for smartglasses, both in the consumer and enterprise space. Meanwhile the smartwatch wars are literally just round the corner, allowing developers to innovate in how people interact with their devices, beyond a simple pedometer or notification tool.
Whether on phones or not, mobile apps are here to stay. It’s up to developers to make sure they’re creating apps that employees and customers want to use, that meet their needs, and don’t ask too much of them. Who knows, there could be dozens more teenagers waiting to become multimillionaires overnight.
Are you an app developer? What are your priorities over the next year? Comment below.
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