Once upon a time, in a place called App-land, there was a disagreement between two of the little apps. One felt deep in his programming that he was the very best. His friend would never agree, stating that he was the best. One day they decided to have a contest.
"We shall go to the App Stores and see who is most popular," declared the first.
"Yes,” agreed the second. "And that will prove once and for all who is best!"
So they went down to the app stores and walked inside. And they were never heard from again.
The Mystery of the Vanishing App
iOS users have access to 2,000,000 apps in the main app stores in their various incarnations. Android users can find about 10% more at 2.2 million in their app stores. In the iOS store alone you can find nearly 2,000 flashlight apps. Enough with the flashlights already!
Seriously, folks, most flashlight apps are free, so you will never make any money trying to sell one. There are areas (not very many, mind you) that haven't been "done-to-death" yet; so, if you're more talented than most, you might be able to get some attention in those little oases of underdevelopment.
The truth for the majority of apps is that few of them have ever been downloaded more than a couple of times. In the Apple store alone, between 50 and 60% have never been downloaded even once.
Surprisingly, that is not surprising. To a casual observer looking at Angry Birds, they know that the Finnish company Rovio has made a fortune on that, and Bad Piggies, and Nibblers, and so on.
How hard could it be (they reason) to make a popular app that costs $0.99? Downloaded a million times, you'd have $999,999.99! (removed)
Since the majority of Apple apps must be paid for, people are reluctant to "test drive" them. Android, on the other hand, features many apps that are supported by advertising, so they cost the user nothing to download and try out. The ones that do cost are generally of good quality and well-designed.
The free-only ones can often be sufficient, but also can at times seem experimental, kludgy, and more a demonstration of ability by someone learning to program. They'll frequently get updates to fix "bugs" until (perhaps) they're good enough to sell as a Pro version. They can be enthusiastically supported by long-time users of the free version and all the development time can build a huge loyal following.
The Unsatisfying Truth
If you've ever heard the expression "to make money you have to spend money,” it is particularly true in this instance. When a smartphone user goes looking for an app, 40% of the time they end up going to an app store.
They'll enter a keyword or an expression such as "fitness tracker" and then will be presented with several sorted results. In the Google Play Store for example, you will see one heading called Popular Results-- but don't think it will be sorted alphabetically, or even by popularity, or quality. It starts off with Google Fit— Fitness because, hey, it is Google's Play Store after all. Then it is often followed by the ten people or companies who spent the most money promoting their apps and may have managed to obtain a high download rate.
That list will be followed by more sub-categories-- in this instance "Heart Rate Trackers, Weight Loss Trackers, Gym Training Trackers, Cycling Trackers, and finally another simply called More Results. You get one guess as to where your brand new, knock-em-dead, and unpromoted fitness application ends up…
If Only 40% of People Went to the App Store…
I knew you would remember that number! Sixty percent of users still find their applications "in the wild.” It might be a traveling salesperson who suddenly needs to go two towns over to meet a new client, and where flying would obviously be silly. A quick Google Search to find a car rental agency pops up an advertisement for an app that shows the cheapest local rates.
Downloading that app makes a lot more sense— now our salesperson doesn't need to look at countless sites to find a good rate. It's all on one page of an app. That's how it usually works for shopping tools, airline bookings, oil change shops, coffee houses, and so on.
Think about it…how did you discover your Starbucks App? You went to the store, maybe pointed your phone's camera at a QR code, and it installed automatically without any further interaction on your part. The app stores are a good place to make your app centrally available; but you can promote outside of that and direct users to your app within the store rather than paying the store to keep your app in the Top 10 results.
It’s somewhat of a given that mobile apps are the wave of the future. They are fast, convenient, informative, and useful. Since almost everyone has a smartphone nowadays, this is the simplest, least expensive way for businesses to engage both their customers and employees.
The best part is, you don’t need to be subject to app store antics and the possibility of never being noticed to create and launch an app that helps solve everyday business challenges. In fact if you can quantify the idea on a spreadsheet, then you can make an app out of it. And you can distribute the app as widely as you choose. We can help you do that at AppSheet.
But if self-serve mobile app development isn’t for you, at least you’ll be aware of all options and your chances of success if you do in fact choose the app store route.
*Randi Sherman and David Carter contributed to this post.