Mobile apps are ubiquitous in most people’s day-to-day lives—they help us get around, communicate, and access information at the touch of a button. Apps have become the primary way that consumers engage with media and information, with the average user looking at their smartphone 110x a day.
App use is skyrocketing across every age-bracket. Nearly 80% of adults 65 years and older now own a mobile phone. For these older adults, many of whom can no longer easily leave their home, owning a smartphone can mean increased freedom to order deliveries, connect with friends, entertain themselves, and access other resources. The list of functions that seniors use mobile apps for continues to broaden. Children, too, are adopting technology at high-rates. By age four, 97% of kids have used a mobile device, often without the assistance of an adult.
For app creators the most exciting trend of all is that more people are joining the mobile world as smartphone owners. Smartphone devices are more affordable than ever before, and predicted to continue dropping in price. Companies including Windows and Motorola are developing lower-cost smartphone alternatives that cost under $200. In many developing countries now, smartphones, rather than desktop or laptop computers, are the primary way for users to access the internet.
App development is becoming a significant part of business’ growth strategy, motivating even non-digitally native companies to develop and launch mobile apps. App usage growth is becoming a powerful currency with which to measure business success.
But not just any app stands a fair chance of winning in the app arena.
While the app market is predicted to double by 2020 and reach the $100 billion threshold, it’s changing rapidly as it approaches maturation. Market research firm, ComScore, recently reported that the average amount of time spent on mobile apps is beginning to level off (there are only so many hours in a day). They also reported that most smartphone users concentrate their ‘app time’ on using a select few apps (think: Facebook, YouTube).
Great opportunities lie within pockets of the mobile app market. In some app segments, competition is low and the potential for widespread adoption is high. For others, competition is growing, but high user adoption is still promising. Let’s examine which sectors have the biggest growth potential given current market saturation levels.
BREAKOUT APP SEGMENT #1: Mobile Internet of Things
Uber, Honor, MetroMile–these Internet of Things (IoT) platforms rely almost exclusively on mobile apps to connect with their users and are already valued in the hundreds of millions to billions. Using mobile and IoT, these companies are disrupting traditional business models by inserting themselves between service operators, manufacturers and customers. They rely on smartphone devices and hardware to collect and exchange IoT enabled data, ultimately delivering newfound customer value.
SATURATION: Low across most industries
FINAL VERDICT: Mobile IoT apps will redefine and silently disrupt the mobile app marketplace in a very big way. Don’t expect much attention to be given to the IoT backend of these solutions.
BREAKOUT APP SEGMENT #2: Healthcare
Mobile apps are fundamentally changing the way traditional industries are structured. The healthcare industry is experiencing a major transformation driven by mobile health (mHealth) innovation. mHealth apps that help patients book appointments, access their medical records, manage their health conditions, and otherwise engage with the healthcare sector are rapidly entering the marketplace. People suffering from chronic conditions often have distinctive challenges that niche mobile apps can address. Apps that allow doctors, nurses and other care professionals to communicate faster and securely are also gaining steam.
While competition within the mobile health and wellness sector is growing, paths for growth still exist. mHealth apps that enable hospitals and insurers to engage notoriously difficult to reach patient populations are in high demand. mHealth apps that integrate proven methods for impacting patient health outcomes and rely on clinical research stand the best chance of winning the support of healthcare organizations.
SATURATION: Low to high depending on niche
FINAL VERDICT: To excel in this mobile app sector, a highly targeted value proposition and design are essential. While the app functionality can be diverse, the use case applications should be focused.
BREAKOUT APP SEGMENT #3: Gaming
Games are currently the most popular app category in both the App Store and Google Play Store. They are addictive—consumers have a hard time putting down their phone once they’re swept up in gameplay. Many games never end, and rely on positive reinforcement by way of trophies or points to keep people playing. Most importantly, many games are easy to play with one hand while on the go, as opposed to more established methods of gaming that rely on stationary consoles. This means that anyone, no matter how busy their lifestyle, can engage in mobile gaming.
The consumer gaming market is overcrowded, but competition is scarce in the professional learning arena. In the past five years, the language learning app Duolingo has positioned itself as the preferred app for teachers, students and people looking to build their language skills independently. The key to their success lies in their app’s gamification. Businesses in industries with deep learning curves can similarly gain app notoriety using gamification. Manufacturing and other industrial sectors with complex jargon and procedures can benefit from professional skill-enhancement games.
SATURATION: High to Low depending on industry focus
FINAL VERDICT: Despite being oversaturated on the consumer side, the mobile gaming sector is bursting with opportunity on the enterprise side.
BREAKOUT APP SEGMENT #4: Field Service Management
As remote workers come to dominate the global workforce, the need for field services management tools will grow significantly. A sizable amount of field service management apps have already been released onto the mobile app marketplace. In order to compete with big players in this space like Intuit, new market entrants will need to take a more creative approach.
Plenty of businesses can benefit from field service management applications, but for many field services management may not be a familiar concept. Recognizing this, Slack provides the building blocks for field service management with app integrations while simply positioning itself as a business communications tool. Rather than developing a one-size-fits-all mobile app in this category, new entrants should similarly target specific business verticals or specialize in subsegments of field service management in order to gain widescale user adoption.
FINAL VERDICT: For this app segment, niche positioning is key.
Although past its peak in the consumer sector, the app economy is just beginning to open up across the enterprise sector. As mobile ownership continues to increase, worldwide app growth will swell along with app market competition. To win big in any app segment, user-centric design and development is essential. With so many apps to choose from, people are less willing to experiment with new apps. Prior to engaging in app development, businesses must devote time and resources to preparing user-centric, app specification documentation. To earn new and repeat users, mobile apps must address and satisfy clear pain points. Organizations that refine their mobile app’s value proposition and user engagement model early in the app development process stand the best chance of outperforming competing apps.