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As App Usage Falters, Is Development Worth the Trouble?

man throwing phone in trashcan

In 2008, Apple not-so-subtly declared the iPhone the end-all, be-all of technology — something that would transform the mobile and computing worlds simultaneously all the way to their core. At the center of these bloviating claims was the “App,” a cloyingly shortened version of the word “application” with the promised ability to seamlessly integrate within the new iOS environment and offer streamlined functionality. In essence, apps were not so different from beefed-up versions of Apple’s “widget” dashboard, although they began to gradually grow in depth, breadth and scope.

Apps truly were a success story for many years, but now some wonder if this is still the case. App usage is declining, according to multiple reports, and nobody’s quite sure of the cause. Perhaps people got burnt out by constant check-ins, or they moved past text-based walled gardens like Twitter and Facebook to more media-rich experiences a la Snapchat and Instagram.

Regardless of the reasons, one fact remains true: getting people to download and use your branded app has become more difficult than ever.

App Usage Statistics Paint a Dour Picture

Let’s talk turkey. After several straight years of increasing user retention, 2015 saw a sharp decline in the number of users who continually returned to an app eleven or more times. Retention across the globe slipped from 39 percent to 34 percent since 2014, with US retention staying nearly static at 42 percent of users.

Social media app usage — the primary addiction for most with a smartphone glued to their hand — also declined. Zero Hedge reports that installations of Facebook dropped by 5 percent when comparing March 2016 to March 2015.

Despite these losses, social media use still represents the type of app where users spend their most time, with 29 percent of users saying so. Another positive is that apps that used push notifications saw improved retention. 56 percent of users returned to an app regularly when it had push notifications enabled, compared to 37 percent who did so on apps without push notifications.

All signs point to plateauing app growth and a saturation of the market as a whole, though. App downloads are declining across the board, with the downloads of the top 15 apps dropping 20 percent comparing May ‘15 to May ‘16. The average user reports downloading zero apps per month.

“Now, even the very biggest app publishers are seeing their growth slow down or stop altogether,” says ReCode. “Most people have all the apps they want and/or need. They’re not looking for new ones.”

How Brands Can Cope with App Apathy

The simplest solution would be to strongly caution against an expensive branded app push. Brands can instead graft loyalty programs to apps like Belly or mobile marketing campaigns to venues that already see traffic like Instagram, Facebook or even SnapChat.

All that said, the lack of interest in apps can also be attributed to the growth of HTML5 capabilities and browser-based sites. Brands can just as easily create a mobile-centric experience on their site with all the functionality of most apps.

If your brand is wondering how to cope in a hapless, app-less world, it can consult EverSpark Interactive for help developing a sophisticated digital marketing strategy that takes the latest trends into account, including a dip in app usage. Visit our digital marketing services page to learn more.