Mobile app market “mellowing” on a plateau, says Gartner. So…?

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Gartner says that mobile app adoption is maturing as usage “mellows”. But the analysts’ headline-grabbing survey is missing the point, says Chris Middleton.

The mobile applications marketplace is maturing fast and reaching a plateau, according to a survey published today by analysts at Gartner.

As users integrate apps more deeply into their daily lives – especially those apps that help users collaborate and unify their communications – app providers “will need to stay one step ahead and focus their strategic development, marketing and branding more intensely on retention”, said the research firm.

In 2014, Gartner surveyed more than 2,000 users across two mature markets: the US and Germany. Respondents were asked which apps they had used on their smartphone in the last three months and how frequently they had used them.

While it was clear that app use is generally high within all categories (even within categories that are less popular overall), some app types, such as social networking and video, are seeing very high weekly usage. Usage rates – some approaching daily for most users – are consistent with other observations of the marketplace, such as how businesses brand and use apps as a main touchpoint, said Gartner.

In themselves, none of these results are surprising, given the mass global popularity of networking sites and of the app versions of video and other communications platforms. But according to the survey – of a high number of respondents in mature markets – smartphone users are content with their current levels of usage, which suggests that overall app usage is fast reaching a plateau.

The clue is perhaps in the term “mature markets”.

Nevertheless, and as a result, app managers face the strategic challenge of creating and monetising new opportunities, because consumption patterns show little sign of significant change.

“After eight years of searching for, downloading, and using smartphone apps, users are maturing in their usage behaviours,” said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.

“It’s not that smartphone users have lost interest in apps: users remain excited about what apps can do for them in their daily lives, including for work and non-work scenarios. However, app users need to be convinced about the value of the app.

“Their willingness [to explore]new app experiences is open-ended, but their plan is to keep the same patterns of use. Users will try new apps, but they need to be convinced of an app’s value before they adopt them and change usage patterns over the long term.”

The important bit

But for businesses one important aspect is missing from Gartner’s statement today. Apps themselves are fast commoditising, with many available free or at nominal cost, and others as add-ons to professional suites and services, or within walled-garden environments.

The emerging school of thought is that apps are simply the ‘amuse-bouche’, not the main feast; the real key is the business and technology platforms behind the app, and those environments are becoming increasingly modular and open – in many cases based on open-source rather than closed and proprietary technologies – in order to future-proof them for any eventuality and/or change in behaviour.

“We need an app” shouldn’t be the battle cry of any IT strategist who is late to the field; it should be “We need a platform” – and an extensible, agile and standards-based one at that.

From the client IT perspective, therefore, factoring in a unified communications strategy and an open, modular development environment are key considerations in the creation of an adaptive, flexible and scalable IT infrastructure for the future.

About Author

Chris Middleton

Chris Middleton is a widely respected business and technology journalist, author, and magazine editor. In recent years he has been Editor of Computing (where he remains Consulting Editor); co-founder and Managing Editor of Professional Outsourcing – a magazine he developed from scratch and grew to be the leading magazine in its field; Editor of CBR in its most successful year; and co-founder and launch Editor of Sourcingfocus.com. Today, he is co-Director of EastwoodMiddleton Publishing, and founder, designer, and Editor in Chief of Strategist magazine (UK), the boardroom magazine that provides strategic insight for business leaders, and of its mobile-first digital edition at www.iamtheStrategist.com. He is also co-founding Editor of Child Internet Safety magazine, and a contributing Editor of Diginomica.com. Over the years Chris has also written for, among many others, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and Computer Weekly. He is the author of several successful books on digital media, and a commissioning editor of more than 50 books.