Can we see the beginning of a post app era?

By June 11, 2012 19 Comments

I read in the Financial Times this morning that application downloads to iPhones have been falling for the past couple of months. I was surprised and excited by this data in equal measure which, if true and is the beginning of a trend, heralds an important shift in the way we use our mobile phones.

I started by doing some digging on the web and it turns out that the data comes from a mobile app advertising business called Fiksu, who recently released a bunch of data on mobile app downloads and monetisation which included the chart below.

Aggregate daily download volume of top 200 ranked free iPhone apps in the US

App Store Competitive Index

My reading of this chart is that we may be seeing the start of a new trend, but there is not enough data here to make that call definitively. Firstly, the data is limited to downloads of the top 200 free iPhone apps in the US, secondly I haven’t heard of anyone else spotting this trend, and thirdly we only have four months of data. That said, I’m in the business of spotting trends early and there is more than enough here to get my antennae twitching and put me on the lookout for corroborating data.

One obvious explanation for the decline in downloads is that users are turning from apps to the mobile web. This is the news that the HTML5 crowd have been waiting to hear for some time (myself included). There isn’t much to be found on the web either way about this, but the one thing I could find was a recent Nielsen survey which found that compared with a year ago we are spending more time on apps vs the web (81% of our time vs 73%).

I regard surveys as pretty unreliable indicators or tech trends, so I don’t put too much store in the Nielsen data, but I am left thinking that the most likely explanation for the Fiksu data is that consumers are growing tired of experimenting with new apps all the time and are instead spending more time with a smaller set of apps they have come to love and rely upon. This explanation matches my behaviour.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.