How do people really use apps? We asked an expert

The rapid and relentless rise of the smartphone can’t be easily explained because it was driven by the convergence of multiple trends and technologies. But if you were to search for the evolutionary leap from feature phones, it would be hard to look past apps. By making it easy to develop, share, and sell apps, and allowing developers to dig into device functionality in new ways, Apple, and later Google, paved the way for an industry that has claimed a healthy portion of our daily attention.

“Every consumer-facing business is being transformed by apps,” Bertrand Schmitt, CEO, chairman, and co-founder of App Annie, told Digital Trends. “Consumers are spending around three hours a day on their smartphone on apps.”

The mobile app industry is now incredibly diverse and generates enormous sums of money.

Perhaps best summed up by Apple’s fiendishly clever 2009 ad slogan, “There’s an app for that,” the mobile app industry is now incredibly diverse and generates enormous sums of money.

Globally, there were 175 billion app downloads in 2017, and people spent $86 billion in app stores in the same year. App Annie can pull together this kind of data because it has built up an enormous reach that includes more than one million connected apps and more than one million registered users.

“We have many, many different sources of data, from apps, public information, our partners,” Schmitt said. “The big thing is we don’t save user data, all the data we provide is aggregated — it’s an estimate — we never directly share anything.”

The company has passed its eighth birthday and now employs more than 450 people across 13 different countries. Headquartered in San Francisco, it has always covered the whole world in its analysis. With more than 900 enterprise customers, App Annie serves up insights to everyone from big tech companies, gaming companies, and social networks, to major players in retail, travel, and transportation.

Value of an App Store

Schmitt has been involved in the mobile industry for close to 25 years, starting out programming calculators, before graduating to PDAs, the first cell phones, and then smartphones. When Apple’s iOS App Store opened in 2008, Schmitt saw an exciting opportunity.

“I could see the value of the App Store because I could see where the web was not really efficient,” Schmitt said.

While it had been difficult to install and maintain apps on cell phones, the App Store changed all that, making it much easier for users and developers. Schmitt co-founded App Annie driven by a desire to find out what was working, what was growing, and which countries were accelerating fastest. The upward trajectory of the app industry since then has been positively meteoric.

“Your target market definitely has a smartphone now, that can be your base expectation, but a few years back it wasn’t,” he said. “The average user now has around 80 apps installed and uses around 40 every month”.

How do we use apps

Most people use around 10 apps every single day, but there are also apps that we perhaps only dip into once a year – like a travel or airline app. Apps are generally better quality than they were just a few years ago; they have more functionality, and they’re better supported. While most of us have go-to apps that we fire up more than we should, it seems that no one app is dominating the landscape.

“The average user now has around 80 apps installed and uses around 40 every month.”

“I don’t think there is any app where users are spending more than 20 percent of their time,” Schmitt said.

Time spent isn’t always the best measure in any case. A retail app that works well allows people to find what they’re looking for and buy it quickly. If you’re spending a long time on something like a train app trying to buy a ticket, then it’s probably a sign that something is wrong.

There’s a lot of growth across the industry, but games, entertainment, retail, travel, and finance seem to be outpacing other categories. There are significant differences from country to country and there are some areas where the U.S. is lagging.

“In China payments have moved much faster than everywhere else,” Schmitt explains. “It’s impressive that you can now buy anything using the Wechat payment system. You can even use it with street vendors and taxi drivers.”

It may take a while longer for mobile payments to go mainstream in the U.S., but Schmitt agrees that payments on mobile will be widely accepted within a few years. It seems that this kind of gap in development is quite unusual.

“We usually see trends moving rapidly across markets. It might start from one market maybe China, U.S., Korea, or France, but it moves very fast across the world,” Schmitt said. “If someone has a good idea, in two years it will be everywhere. There’s more visibility into what’s working and what’s not working.”

Speaking of what’s not working, Schmitt mentions augmented reality (AR), pointing out that there are only two successful apps in the space so far: Snapchat and Pokémon Go, but even there the AR part is a gimmick on top of a location-based game. He’s also not entirely convinced by VR.

“VR is a great innovation, but the level of hype was way beyond anything I’ve seen that will take such a long time to get to scale. The big question of what it’s for remains, and outside of gaming it’s not clear.”

The conversation drifts into the future of apps and we discuss car apps that can replace keys, and home automation apps — “people want one app to do everything otherwise it’s too complex.” Schmitt agrees that this increasingly means buying into one ecosystem or another, whether it’s Google or Apple, but suggests “It’s a fair fight and it’s good for consumers: Get educated and make an informed choice.”

Whatever does come next, the outlook for mobile apps is extremely healthy. App Annie predicts that by 2021, 6.3 billion mobile users will be spending $139 billion in the app stores, and in-app advertising spend will double from the $101 billion spent last year. Mobile apps look set to be an increasingly important player in our daily lives, replacing things like keys and wallets and enabling us to do more.

“We are heading in the right direction to where we have one device to rule them all.”

Mobile

Need to record calls on an iPhone? Check out our handy guide

Are you wondering how to record calls on your iPhone? It isn't as easy as you might think, but we'll walk you through the process of doing so with Google Voice, and identify several other apps and external voice recorders that can help.
Mobile

Looking to remove unwanted apps from your iPhone? Here's how

Have too many apps piled up on your iPhone? With all the games, apps, and bloatware out there, it is easy to run out of room on your phone. Here's how to delete apps on an iPhone, so you can free up some space for something new.
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, each suited for a different occasion.
Home Theater

Don't wake the baby! How to connect headphones to a TV

Do you need to connect a pair of headphones to your TV? Our handy guide will show you how to hook up your headphones in a variety of ways, whether you're using wired headphones, wireless headphones, or gaming headsets.
Mobile

No home button, no problem: Here's how to take a screenshot on an iPhone X

Since the iPhone X has ditched Touch ID in exchange for Face ID, the process of taking screenshots is a little different. Here, we show you how to take a screenshot on an iPhone X.
Computing

Apple AR glasses will launch in 2020, says respected industry analyst

Apple AR glasses may be closer to reality than we thought. Here is everything we know so far about the augmented reality system, including the rumored specifications of Apple's Project Mirrorshades.
Mobile

No, blue light from your cell phone won’t make you blind

A new study from the University of Toledo reveals the process by which blue light impacts the photoreceptors in our eyes and leads to macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease that causes blindness later in life. The fact that blue…
Mobile

Here’s how to safely download ‘Fortnite: Battle Royale’ on an Android device

'Fortnite: Battle Royale' is one of the biggest games in the world right now, and it's finally on Android, even if getting set up is a bit long-winded. Here's how to play 'Fortnite: Battle Royale' on an Android device.
Mobile

T-Mobile attempts to reinvent customer service with its new ‘Team of Experts’

In an attempt to reinvent how it approaches customer care, T-Mobile announced its Team of Experts. Whenever a customer contacts T-Mobile, they're given direct access to the same team members each time without being put on hold or…
Wearables

Apple considers making its own health-monitoring processors

Apple could be looking at making its own dedicated health tracking processors. These chips are dedicated to health-monitoring features on wearables, and could mean more health tracking features on the next Apple Watch.
Social Media

How to use Adobe Spark Post to spice up your social media images

Images are proven to get more likes than plain text -- but only if those images are good. Adobe Spark post is an AI-powered design program for non-designers. Here's how to use it to take your social media feeds to the next level.
Mobile

Oppo F9 smartphone is a budget beauty with a teeny-tiny notch

Oppo has just unveiled the budget Oppo F9 with decidedly budget specs wrapped in an impressively attractive body with a gradient finish and a teeny tiny-notch on the nearly all-screen front. But it doesn't seem to be coming to the U.S. or…
Home Theater

Everything you need to know about Google’s Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Mobile

Google One subscriptions offer more cloud storage for low prices, other perks

Can't get enough storage on Google Drive, Photos, or Gmail? Google One is the new way to boost your cloud storage. But it's not just about more space -- Google One comes with a loads of benefits.