Mobile app downloads expected to decline as markets mature


The average number of mobile applications downloaded each year by consumers is set to fall in the years ahead as markets mature and the mobile web evolves, ABI Research forecasts.

Smartphone owners across the globe will download about 36 billion mobile apps in 2012, an average of almost 37 native app installs per user--a 6 percent year-over-year increase, ABI reports. Even so, the firm expects download totals to modestly decrease over the coming years.

"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," said ABI Senior Analyst Aapo Markkanen. "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."

ABI also anticipates that many developers and content providers will eschew native applications in favor of the cross-platform possibilities inherent in mobile web technologies, citing as an example The Financial Times' decision to pull the plug on its news app for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS to focus on the HTML5 runtime.

"News and magazine apps are a segment where the momentum is likely to shift towards the web within the next two to three years," Markkanen said. "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." ABI acknowledged that some categories like games and utilities likely will remain dominated by native experiences.

Developer support for hybrid HTML5 apps combining elements of the runtime with native capabilities continues to grow, according to an appMobi survey issued last month. Among the 50,000 active developers building HTML5-based apps on the firm's platform, all have built at least one HTML5 hybrid app, and 25 percent have created at least three or more. Media-focused services represent 40 percent of these hybrid apps, followed by games (35 percent) and retail (15 percent).

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