In August of 2013 Google suffered a rare two minute outage. During that infamous two minutes 40% of the web went dark. Forty percent! This event was a clear reminder of the ultimate control Google has over the web and web traffic.
Since the early days of the web, control of discovery and web traffic has been the focus of many. In the mid- to late-nineties, such control was in the hands of ISPs such as AOL and Earthlink. In the late nineties, the control shifted to portals with Yahoo and its MyYahoo service in the lead position. (I recall a conversation in 2000 with a former colleague of mine asking for an introduction to the MyYahoo team: “If you are not on MyYahoo, you simply don’t exist. It costs too much to promote your site.”) In the early to mid 2000s, Google dis-intermediated Yahoo and stole that position with Search and AdWords. Google has since reigned supreme over web discovery, organic and paid traffic acquisition. An entire industry has been built around SEO and SEM and both of these acronyms have become synonymous with the name Google.
Then came mobile and its apps. In just over five years since the launch of the Apple AppStore, apps have taken the mobile industry by storm. Today, 86% of time spent on mobile devices is spent inside applications, with just 14% left for the mobile web. App discovery has been a major challenge over the past five years. That led to the fast rise of the paid App Install market. In fact, Marketers are expected to spend over $2.4 billion USD in the US alone to get their apps noticed.
Climbing into a Walled Garden
Discovering relevant content and services within apps has also been a big challenge. Consumers want such a service. As an example, if a consumer is searching for a flight to Las Vegas, in an ideal scenario the phone or discovery service would launch whatever flight booking app is installed on the phone and send the consumer directly to the reservations page. But apps (alongside the content and services in them) can’t be crawled. They are not just about index and links, and hence are hard to “page rank.” As a result it is difficult for a search engine to discover apps and offer consumers an entry point.
Consumer behavior on mobile is very different than the desktop web. The de-facto behavior on the web is to launch the browser to google.com, type a sentence and be re-directed to content. The de-facto behavior in mobile is to launch an app (previously installed on the device) and enjoy the comprehensive experience offered within it. You are rarely, if ever, linked out to a mobile webpage from an app or sent to another app. Each experience is essentially an island unto itself, completely reliant on the consumer to come ashore.
The industry and some major mobile players are looking to solve this problem and the battle is raging for the “gateway” for mobile apps, content and services. In short, the Google position for mobile is up for grabs and billions of dollars are at stake.
At Flurry, we are in the middle of that battle and have built solutions to help apps get discovered and acquire traffic. We watch the space very carefully. We have seen a lot of companies, large and small, try to solve this problem: Apple with Siri, Google with Search and Google Now, Facebook with App Install and App Conversion Ads, and myriad others. But recently we have been most intrigued by Android Personalization apps, also called Launchers, especially after the creation of Facebook’s Home and Yahoo’s acquisition of Aviate. So we have taken a closer look at this category and the chart below shows the very fast adoption and usage of these personalization apps on Android.
The majority of these apps offer a personalized homepage for Android, and do some form of app discovery and app launch.
There are over 4,500 apps in this category on the Flurry platform and the data shown represents the aggregate usage of these apps. It shows the number of app sessions recorded by Flurry in apps in the Android Personalization category, by quarter, since the beginning of 2012. The growth in that category is astonishing. In fact, Q1 2014 (and the quarter is not over yet) usage is higher than all of 2013. While the cumulative reach of these apps is still relatively small (30 million monthly users in the US), the usage growth is eye catching.
This data set is telling us something. In fact, this data set is telling us something big. It is telling us that consumers are eagerly waiting for an innovative service that help them discover apps, content, and services around them in a personalized way. While the numbers are still small, the fast adoption of these apps can’t be ignored. The battle for the mobile homescreen has begun. The battle for the “Google position of mobile” has entered a new phase, and it is “must-win” battle for many.
In November 2013, Benedict Evans, a well-respected and widely followed analyst, shared an updated version of his famous slide deck called “Mobile is Eating the World”. This deck quickly made the rounds on social media and was highly referenced by industry and financial analysts who cover mobile. We can’t help but agree with Benedict’s conclusion. For the past five years, we have watched mobile disrupt every industry, in every country, and continue to break its own records year after year. 2013 did not disappoint.
According to Flurry Analytics, overall app use in 2013 posted 115% year-over-year growth. (In this context, we define app use as a consumer launching an app and recording what Flurry defines as a session.)
Every single app category has shown growth over the last twelve months. In the chart below, we have focused on the categories of interest to most. Utilities and Productivity apps posted 150% growth in use year-over year, as smartphones and tablets became personal computers and productivity apps, such as Evernote and Quip, gained sophistication and adoption. Even Gaming, which was feared to reach saturation levels in 2013, posted 66% year-over-year growth in use.
However, the segment that showed the most dramatic growth in 2013 was Messaging (Social and Photo sharing included). The growth in that segment should not come as a surprise to many, given the attention that messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, KakaoTalk, LINE, Facebook Messenger and SnapChat have received in the press. What is surprising, however, is that the rate of growth (tripling usage year-over-year) dramatically outpaced other popular categories. This type of growth could explain the high valuation Facebook has allegedly put on SnapChat, or Facebook’s rush to add direct messaging in Instagram, an app frequented by teens.
Killer Apps or Killer Platform?
While some of these apps, such as Korea-owned and Japan-based LINE, are enjoying great revenue growth, there is still a debate about whether these apps are simply experiences or more of a platform. 2013 saw a few examples of these apps becoming more of the latter.
In March of 2013, and just three months after launching it game distribution platform, LINE announced that it had delivered over 100m downloads to its gaming partners.
Tencent’s WeChat has conducted an experiment with China’s emerging device manufacturer Xiaomi demonstrating WeChat’s potential as an m-commerce player. In that experiment, Xiaomi launched a new smartphone to WeChat users. The result: 150,000 new smartphones sold in under 10 minutes through a messaging application.
Such examples, coupled with Facebook’s own successful entry into the paid mobile app install market, have demonstrated the potential messaging and social applications have to become a mobile storefront for digital and physical goods.
It is these simple yet very promising anecdotes, coupled with an over 200% year-over-year growth, driving the frenzied land grab in the Communications market. 2014 will be a crucial year for these applications and will determine whether they will remain independent, but highly frequented applications, or become killer mobile platforms and distribution channels. TIME magazine has already placed its bets on the latter. At Flurry, we are fascinated by the growth, the retention rate, the reach and the frequency for this category. We see the potential for what it might become, but before declaring that mobile is all about messaging apps, we would like to see more of these marketing/commerce experiments a la Xiaomi/WeChat happen at scale and in many countries.
Another explosive growth year in mobile has passed. On December 31st, 2013 at 11:59 pm, Flurry Analytics tracked a record 4.7 Billion app sessions in a single day, for a total of 1.126 Trillion sessions for the whole year. Those are some very, very big numbers. One minute later the counter went back to zero. A new year has begun, and if the first few days of January are any indication, the mobile world is looking at another major growth year and yes Benedict (and Fred Wilson too), mobile is continuing to eat the world.
As we said in previous posts, connected devices have become part of our Christmas and Thanksgiving traditions. This marks a change from just a few years ago when smartphones and tablets represented exciting new additions to our lives that we couldn’t wait to unwrap, activate, and start filling up with apps.
Flurry’s data showed another record-breaking level of app downloads this Christmas, but it also provides further evidence that, in the early mobile markets at least, devices are evolving from being our new shiny toys to our everyday companions.
For this report, we looked across more than 400,000 apps that Flurry tracks globally to see what happened around the Christmas tree. We found that Christmas downloads were up by 91% compared to an average day in the first three weeks of December. That is a large increase, but as shown below, the size of the Christmas download spike is diminishing over time as the app market matures and globalizes.
More Signs the App Market is Maturing
2013 was the biggest Christmas yet for mobile app downloads. As the chart below shows, overall app downloads increased by 11% on Christmas 2013 compared to Christmas 2012. Over the same one year time span, there was a 25% increase in app downloads on an average December day. As the data illustrates, both the overall rate of year-on-year growth and the year-on-year Christmas growth have slowed considerably in the past year (from 97% and 90% respectively between 2011 and 2012).
The slowing growth rates and smaller Christmas Day app download spike signal market maturation. Many consumers in Western Europe and English-speaking countries -- large mobile markets where Christmas is a big holiday -- already have a smartphone and / or a tablet. Fewer people are coming online with mobile for the very first time. Consumers who are on second, third or fourth devices have apps that they like and trust, and while they still download new apps, there isn’t much more impetus to do so on Christmas than any other day when they have a little downtime. New device activations do still spike on Christmas, but that spike is waning compared to years past, and it comes on top of a much larger installed base. That means that when new devices are loaded with apps, the overall impact on app download volume is not as big.
The biggest growth in mobile now is coming in countries where Christmas is a less significant holiday or not celebrated at all, so new device activations and app downloads come at different times of the year in those places. And because those high-growth areas are joining an already large global market, overall growth rates are less striking than when the mobile market was new.
Leisure-Oriented Apps Experience the Biggest Christmas Lift
To look at the types of apps that see the greatest increase in downloads at Christmas, we indexed the numbers by comparing Christmas to an average day in the first three weeks of December to eliminate inflation due to the continued growth of the overall connected device installed base.
After doing that, we see a similar phenomenon to what happened on Thanksgiving. Because our devices have become so intertwined with our lives, on a day like Christmas when most of us are relaxing, the apps we download reflect that. Games and social apps were downloaded on Christmas at twice the rate they were on a typical December day. The other categories that experienced the largest surge in Christmas downloads were media (photo, video, music) and lifestyle (sports, books, magazines, entertainment).
Are Prospects Changing For App Developers?
Maturation of the app market means that changes are in store for app developers. The gold rush days of huge jumps in the overall size of the connected device installed base on Christmas, followed by a dizzying rush of app downloads are fading. Of course, there will still be apps that tap into some vein of consumer interest or amusement and developers who strike it rich as a consequence. But overall, the successful developers in 2014 and beyond will be those who put in the hard work of identifying a target group of users, creating apps that work well for them, and continually refining and reinventing mobile experiences to profitably retain those users. We’ll talk more about that in early 2014.
In October of 2013, Softbank Capital made a $1.5B USD investment in Supercell, the maker of two successful mobile games, giving Softbank a 51% ownership of the game maker. This investment caught the world’s attention. It wasn’t just the rich $3B USD valuation Softbank placed on Supercell that intrigued onlookers, but more the speculation that Softbank and its CEO Masayoshi Son were onto a bigger trend. Mr. Son has a solid track record in anticipating big shifts in worldwide markets in general and the tech industry in particular. In the mid-nineties Softbank was a publishing powerhouse. By the mid 2000s the company became an Internet powerhouse. Today, Softbank is the third largest wireless carrier in the world. So what does this investment signal about the big shift that Mr. Son is anticipating? At Flurry we believe he is placing bets on the Mobile Content Explosion that is taking place around us.
Early Indicators Signal the Content Explosion
At Flurry, we have always looked at the applications being started on our platform as a leading indicator of the app economy’s health. This is very similar to how U.S. economists treat housing starts as a leading indicator for the national economy. Typically, developers engage with Flurry and start applications on our platform a couple of months before they list them on App Stores. So if the activity on Flurry increases, it signals that more apps (and content) will be available on the stores within a couple of months.
Looking at application starts on the Flurry network since January 2012, we see an increase in the quarterly growth rate. This is in stark contrast to theories that the app ecosystem is congested. In fact, in just over 18 months, the rate of which new apps are being started on the Flurry network has nearly doubled as shown in the chart below.
While Flurry’s market share in analytics could have increased, we don’t believe it is the major factor in the acceleration of applications starts. Instead, we believe that we have entered a new phase of mobile content explosion, driven by rapidly changing consumer behavior. Over the last two years, application developers and media companies have seen the shift from personal computers to smart mobile devices including phones and tablets that are now in the hands of over 1.2 billion people worldwide. They have also seen the wild and global success of gaming, utility and messaging applications such as LINE, Kakao, Snapchat and WhatsApp. They are simply acting accordingly. With the hopes of reaching these 1.2 billion people with a press of a button, app developers and media companies are building mobile apps like never before.
There is an Audience for That
Pundits have criticized the increasing number of apps and have often claimed that while there are millions of apps out there, very few are being used. They also claim that a few app developers have the lion share of usage, especially in the United States and other mature markets such as Japan and South Korea. Earlier this year, a report from Comscore claimed that Facebook (and Instragram) accounted for 26% of all times spent on mobile. In its latest earnings reports, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg almost confirmed Comscore ‘s numbers and claimed that Facebook’s share of people's time is larger than that of YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, LinkedIn, AOL and Yahoo combined. While Facebook’s reach and percentage of time spent are in a league of their own, there appears to be plenty of whitespace for others. In fact, just on the Flurry platform the number of independently owned app developers that have a worldwide audience of over 20 million Monthly Active Users (MAU) has jumped from 7 in Q1 2012 to 32 in Q3 2013. That is whopping 357% growth in 18 months.
In the same period, the number of app developers with an audience over one million MAU has risen from just under 400 to 875, a whopping 121% growth.
These numbers are simply unprecedented, especially because most of these app developers have risen organically, and not as a result of consolidation or through mergers and acquisitions. If anything, the market, its reach and the time spent on mobile is still with the “middle class”, or the mid-tail developers and content owners. Among the 1.2 billion device owners, app developers are finding millions of people to enjoy their apps and the content behind it.
Flurry’s numbers, which show the fast rise of app developers with large audiences, seem to indicate that worldwide, consumers with smart devices are still hungry for apps and mobile content, and app developers are building at increasing rates to feed this demand. We believe that once again, Softbank’s Masayoshi Son could once again be onto something really big.
Flurry measured a 47% increase in active smartphones and tablets in the United States between April of 2012 and April of 2013. While that number sounds impressive, it actually puts the U.S. in the bottom 5% of countries for connected device growth in the past year. Worldwide, growth of these devices is exploding. To be in the top 5% of countries for growth over the past year, a country’s number of active connected devices needed to more than triple.
There are currently more than one billion active smartphones and tablets globally, and based on current growth rates we expect to reach two billion in 2014. In this report we discuss which countries are growing fastest, and the implications for the mobile ecosystem and for society more generally.
Huge Potential for Future Growth
The reason even 47% growth puts the US near the bottom of countries for tablet and smartphone growth becomes clear from comparing the size of the connected device installed base and population in five countries.
Let’s start by considering China and the U.S. These two countries currently have a similarly sized connected device installed base, but China has more than four times as many people.Combine China’s largely untapped population with its rapidly growing incomes (increasing at a rate of 8-10% a year between 2009 and 2011, according to the World Bank), and it’s not surprising that the connected device installed base in China grew by 149% between April of 2012 and April of 2013.
We expect these same forces to continue fueling growth in connected device numbers in China, and given the size of the Chinese population, those numbers could add up quickly. For example, if penetration of smartphones and tablets in China grew to that of Malaysia then 210,507,168 additional connected devices would be added to China’s installed base. We chose Malaysia as a point of comparison because it has a large Chinese population and per capita incomes where China’s are likely to be in the not too distant future.
Canada and India provide an even more dramatic comparison. They currently have similarly sized installed bases of smartphones and tablets, but India’s population is 36 times as big as Canada’s. Of course, India’s device penetration won’t catch up to Canada’s overnight, but when India’s rate of penetration equals the current rate in China, then 197,561,626 additional devices will be added to the worldwide installed base. Given India’s connected device installed base grew by 160% in the past year, we don’t think that’s going to take that long to happen.
For those keeping count, that means that the world’s number of connected devices will increase by more than 400 million (or about 40%) when the rate of penetration in India reaches the current rate of penetration in China, and the rate of penetration in China reaches the current rate of penetration in Malaysia.
100%+ Growth is the New Normal
India and China’s large populations make them dramatic examples, but their rates of growth don’t even put them at the top of the charts.Use of smartphones and tablets grew in every country in the world last year except for the three (The Central African Republic, Niger, and South Korea) shown in red in the map below. South Korea was one of the earliest adopters of mobile technology, and it appears that its market is now saturated. The countries in orange (mainly the English speaking countries, Western European countries, and the most connected parts of Asia) are other early adopters of mobile technology. Those markets still grew at rates of up to 99%, but a lot of that growth was the result of people adopting tablets as second devices.
The countries in yellow and green all saw their mobile installed bases more than double in the one year period between April of 2012 and April of 2013.That phenomenal rate of growth is all the more impressive considering what a large proportion of the world’s land mass and population those countries represent. The mobile markets of all of the large BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) grew by between 100 and 199% (the growth rate for the yellow countries on the map). Much of the rest of South America and parts of Africa also grew at that same rate.
The number of active connected devices in countries in green in the map grew at 200% or more in the year to April 2013; those shown in the darker green had growth of 300% or more. Many of these hyper-growth countries are relatively small and not particularly affluent, so their fast growth in the past year may be a reflection of their wireless infrastructure catching up enough to allow their citizens to participate in the mobile revolution.
Implications for the Mobile Ecosystem
The discussion up to now clearly points to rapid growth in the connected device installed base coming predominantly from countries that have a lot of headroom for growth because their current rate of penetration is relatively low. That has the potential to change the foundation of the mobile ecosystem. We have become used to a world in which connected devices are reasonably expensive and replaced fairly frequently, and in which apps for those devices are developed by people in relatively affluent countries. As we look toward the connected device installed base doubling to more than two billion, we expect more of a focus on lower-cost devices that are also possibly more robust (to allow for less frequent replacement since that may be unaffordable in lower income countries). We also expect to see greater diversity of apps and app developers as apps are developed to meet the needs of increasingly diverse device users.
Things get even more interesting when we consider what people might be doing with all of those devices. Of course, they will still provide communication and entertainment, but we expect mobile devices to play an increasingly large role in many aspects of life including enabling commerce in growing economies, facilitating medical care in remote areas, and ensuring that people throughout the world have access to world-class educational resources. We can’t wait to see what else the next billion smartphones and tablets will be used for!