18 Billion Apps. That’s A Big Number.

The Huffington Post recently reported that over 18 billion apps have now been downloaded from the App Store. When combined with the 10 billion downloads which the Android store lays claim to, that’s an astounding 28 billion apps or around 56 apps for every person living in the United States. That’s a pretty impressive number, but it’s also one which warrants a bit of a reality check. An illuminating study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project noted that although smart phone users may download many apps, only a few really get regular use. As noted in “More mobile apps downloaded, but users rely on just a few: Pew study“, smart phone owners depend on a only a half dozen or so apps, on average. So it seems that while people graze widely in the app store(s), they don’t necessarily find a great number of apps which they use regularly. I can attest to the truth of this. According to my present count, I have 68 apps on my iPad. However, I only interacted with 8 of them (excluding business research) of them in the past couple weeks. Though I’m not the ordinary user (needing to evaluate apps as part of my job here at Giant Interactive), the majority of my use is concentrated in just 13% of my downloaded app library. Thinking about the usage patterns of my family, who ‘borrow’ my tablet frequently, the same trend holds true. My wife uses a recipe organizer, Paprika; my kids are big Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and CookieDoodle fans. The most commonly downloaded apps, says the Pew study, can be broadly categorized like this:

  • Information updates: 74%
  • Communication with others: 67%
  • Help in learning about something: 65%
  • Getting more info about something: 53%
  • Help with work-related tasks: 48%
  • Help in shopping/buying: 46%
  • Watching movies/TV: 43%

So what does all this mean when brainstorming app ideas or developing apps for clients anxious to engage mobile and tablet users? Developing an app which is just a showpiece isn’t going to endear you to consumers and won’t earn a place on the ‘most used’ apps in a personal collection. But creating something which fills a need, solves a problem or eases information flow for users delivers a much-needed boost in the competition for viewer eyeballs. I’m particularly struck by the ‘Help in learning about something’ category, which scores a strong 65%. (We’ve got a project which will debut in early 1Q’12 which fits this one perfectly.) Something to keep in mind — it’s gotta have a purpose, not just look pretty. Luckily, the Giant team can do both — letting you have your cake and eat it too.