ABI: Developers are in for a dose of reality as mobile app downloads decline

Mobile App Download Forecast

Is HTML5 really overhyped? Not so fast, says a recent report from market research firm ABI Research. The firm on Wednesday released a new report that analyzes trends in mobile app downloads. While ABI sees native app downloads per smartphone user on platforms like Apple’s (AAPL) iOS and Google’s (GOOG) Android OS increasing to 37 in 2012 from 35 last year, the long-term trend is negative.

“When forecasting on app downloads one has to make a number of assumptions on, for instance, the device mix, developer activity, and the demographics of existing and future smartphone users,” ABI analyst Aapo Markkanen said. “The next waves of smartphone subscribers in the more mature app markets of the United States, Western Europe, and parts of Asia will be downloading quite notably fewer apps than, say, the first one-third of the mobile consumers who bought smartphones.”

Markkanen sees the advent of HTML5-based Web apps also playing a role in the slowing demand for native apps, though he notes that the Web will likely never catch up to native apps in categories such as gaming and utilities. ABI’s full press release follows below.

Smartphone Users Worldwide will Download 37 Apps on Average in 2012, Long Term Trend is Downward

LONDON – July 25, 2012

The world’s smartphone subscribers will download about 36 billion apps in 2012, according to a new industry analyst forecast; resulting in almost 37 native apps through the year for the average smartphone subscriber. The forecast reflects a nearly 6% global increase to the 35 apps downloaded per smartphone subscriber on average in 2011.

Despite the increase against 2011, ABI Research senior analyst Aapo Markkanen believes the average download count will not increase substantially over the coming years. Rather, it is likelier to start modestly decreasing. Markkanen explains, “When forecasting on app downloads one has to make a number of assumptions on, for instance, the device mix, developer activity, and the demographics of existing and future smartphone users. The next waves of smartphone subscribers in the more mature app markets of the United States, Western Europe, and parts of Asia will be downloading quite notably fewer apps than, say, the first one-third of the mobile consumers who bought smartphones.”

Another major factor contributing to the downward trend in average app downloads is the evolution of mobile web. The decision by the Financial Times to pull the plug on its iOS app and bet instead on HTML5 can be seen as a hint of what is to come next. In many app categories, like games and most utilities, the web will probably never catch up with the native app opportunity in terms of user experience, but at the same time there are also some popular areas where it can be anticipated to come rather close.

According to Markkanen, “News and magazine apps are a segment where the momentum is likely to shift towards the web within the next two to three years. Since news and media content already account for a large share of smartphone usage and are likely to play an even bigger role in later adopters’ usage, changes in this segment alone will make subscribers on average download fewer native apps.”

These findings are from ABI Research’s Mobile Application Storefronts Research Service. The service focuses on the distribution and the economics of mobile apps, providing data-driven insights on areas such as download volumes, revenues, and business models, as well as trends within different applications categories.

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