Gartner has been doing its sums to work out that free mobile apps will account for nearly 90 per cent of all app downloads this year, adding up to 40.1 billion of the total 45.6 billion. By I. D. Scales.
Furthermore, 86 per cent of the remaining 5 billion paid-for apps will retail this year for under $3.
So you don't have to be great at maths to work out that this means there's not a HUGE amount of money to be made from app distribution (not as a proportion of the whole market). To illustrate this, here's a summary of the latest Chetin Sharma mobile numbers.
– Total Global Mobile Revenues to hit $1.5 Trillion in 2012, over 2% of Global GDP
– The number of mobile operators with > $1 Billion in yearly data revenues will touch 50 in 2012
– Non-messaging data now owns 53% of the global mobile data revenues
So several billion dollars is certainly not to be sniffed at, but clearly revenue in mobile is being driven very nicely by non-messaging data services. According to Sharma, mobile operator profits have more than doubled in the last 10 years.
As far as the download app market is concerned, the arrows are all still pointing in the free(ish) direction.
Gartner expects an even greater proportion of apps - 96 per cent - to retail in the $1-3 zone by 2016.
So clearly the original idea of the paid-for app - in and of itself - as a valuable revenue source has been dead for several years now. Most apps are propagated to enable something else (revenue-generating or service-enhancing) to happen. The monetisation, where it exists, usually lies 'behind' the app, not in the download, whether it be an app to enable me to access my bank account or a client to enable me to make a VoIP call.
But it seems to me that this trend has other implications too. The old idea of 'applications' having a long and valuable life, to be purchased, updated and reinstalled on new devices and new operating systems as these evolve, is still deeply engrained. Remember the furore caused by Microsoft's decision to not offer an OS upgrade path for Windows Phone 7x to WP 8? Yes, it's an inconvenience to developers, but to users it probably matters very little.
In the free app world we now live in, a new phone is more a get out of jail card than any sort of upgrade headache and I personally like the opportunity to wipe the slate and start from scratch. New phone in hand I'll delight in downloading the latest versions of all my crucial apps and my old favourites and I'll probably take the time to look for completely new apps which might work better in the new environment or OS than I suspect some of the old buggy ones did on the old. After all, as the Gartner numbers show they're nearly all free anyway. Compatibility? Who cares?
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