New app usage data: Mobile users usage still plateaued at 30 apps

New data from Nielsen (via the WSJ) shows that app used are plateauing around 30 per device (and are even lower, for older users).

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This means that the biggest challene for apps is winning mind share (and it doesn’t help that other surveys suggest only 5-9 apps see heavy usage from any individual user). So what are the implications for app developers? I it means Your app needs to commit to a niche — either in functionality or in target users — or commit to competing in one of the very few, and brutally competitive, general marketplaces: Social, mapping, discovery, photo, and maybe one or two others.

The biggest relevant change in the past year has been the creation of app constellations. App constellations, a term coined by Fred Wilson, are ecosystems of apps that are built to work together. Great examples are Swarm and Foursquare, or Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Hyperloop. 

These constellations are particularly interesting because they crowd out competiton: The data suggests users are going to significantly increase the number of apps they use, so if Facebook can expand from one to four apps, they’ve reduced their competition for mobile mindshare, even if their minutes-of-use don’t increase dramatically.

Right now, only the biggest players can pull this off: It is hard, it requires significant development work (because you need to make multiple, high quality, apps), and you need to be important enough that people are willing to go through the hassle of getting multiple apps.

iOS 8’s extensions are going to change things — and it isn’t clear to me what the impact is going to be. The potential upside for small apps: You don’t need to be one of the thirty apps people store on their home page. Instead you can focus on doing one thing really well, and count on getting surfaced whenever people need your functionality.

There’s another possibility, however, which could further tech’s rich-get-richer trend: Extensions could help big app ecosystems pack in even more functionality, without falling afoul of mobile’s design constraints.

I interesting to see if these numbers change significantly as iOS 8 rolls out. I’ll report back here.

 

Miles

I’m a senior product manager for OpenTable’s consumer products. I focus on major features, including our loyalty program, diner profiles, social integrations, and new business exploration.