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.
Developers devote a lot of attention to the time immediately after an app is launched. How quickly is it growing? Will it go viral? How is it ranking in app stores? While that launch period is critical, managing apps well throughout their entire lifecycle means also paying special attention to what happens after an app peaks. Does it decline precipitously or manage to hold much of its audience for a long time?
We explore the post peak phase of the lifecycle of mobile apps using the concept of a half-life, which for purposes of this analysis we define as the point at which an app’s monthly users (MAU) have declined to 50% of their lifetime peak.
Usage of Many Apps Decays Rapidly The First Few Months Post Peak And Then Levels Off
We start by looking at the overall rate of decay for 26,176 apps that peaked in the first half of 2011, 2012, and 2013. (That allows enough time for decay even for apps peaking in 2013 and also controls for the time of year in which the app peaked.) The chart below shows what proportion of apps were at what percentage of their peak MAU in each of the first ten months after they peaked. Apps in the gray band fell below 25% of their peak MAU by the month indicated, apps in the orange band had fallen below 50% but were still above 25%, apps in the green band were below 75% but above 50%, and apps in the blue band were above 75% of their peak MAU in the month shown in the horizontal axis.
As shown in the chart, decay is fairly rapid in the first few months post peak. A quarter of apps fall below half of their peak MAU the month after peaking (see the top of the orange band in the chart). That percentage grows to 43% in the second month post peak. In the third month post peak, just over half (52%) of apps fall below half of their peak MAU. The fourth month post peak is a critical benchmark: From this point on, MAU decay continues, but at a much slower rate (note the flattening of the color bands after the 4th month).
The overall pattern of app user decay has been remarkably stable over the past three years, but there is variation based on app category, size, and operating system. The table below shows median app half-life for apps within each grouping. This corresponds to the month in which the top of the orange band and the bottom of the green band intersect at the 50% line in the previous chart.
The biggest influence on the rate of app decay is category. Apps in utilitarian categories such as news and health decay at a much slower rate than apps in the more trend-driven games and social categories.
On average, apps that peak at 10,000 MAU or more enjoy a half-life that is two months longer than apps that don’t reach that level.
iOS apps typically reach their half-life a month later than Android apps.
Managing Decline Is As Important As Managing Growth
Many developers give a lot of thought to how to grow their apps, but we suspect fewer devote the same attention to managing their app’s decline. In some ways, this is analogous to people looking after their health as they age. The right habits can prolong longevity. In the case of apps, that means paying close attention to user retention and re-engagement – particularly as MAU growth begins to plateau and decline.
Those first few months post peak are key since the rate of decay levels off after about four months. More than half (56%) of apps that manage to hold more than half of their peak users for the first four months after they peak are still holding on to more than half of them ten months post peak. That could have a sizeable revenue impact. For example, consider an app that peaks at 100,000 monthly average users and has average revenue per user per month of $2.50. Holding at least half of those users through month four means the app has a 56% chance of holding them for another six months and that translates into revenue of $750,000 (100,000 users* half of them remaining *$2.50 per user per month * 6 months).
Just as actuarial tables help insurance companies anticipate costs, understanding typical app decay patterns can help developers and those who fund them anticipate app revenue streams. For example, assuming similar development costs and average revenue per user per month, a game app would need to peak with many more active users than a news app to have the same profit potential since its life can be expected to be a lot shorter. And it pays to invest in growing MAU for any app to the highest peak possible since that is also likely to mean the app will enjoy a longer half-life.
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 less than a decade, connected devices have become an integral part of Christmas. They are commonly wished for and given as gifts, and Christmas is the biggest day of the year for new device activations. That tradition continued this Christmas, with device activations up by 63% compared to an average day in the first three weeks of December.
To identify what types of devices are most gifted, we compared new device activations on Christmas to the average for the first three weeks of December. This approach adjusts for the fact that the smartphone and tablet installed base is growing all the time, and therefore a large part of the difference between one Christmas and the next is a result of growth in the installed base rather than increased Christmas giving.
Who Needs Drones When You Have Reindeer?
The chart below shows the smartphone and tablet manufacturers that experience the greatest increase in activations on Christmas compared to a typical December day. For the past three years, Amazon has been the brand of device that has experienced the largest bump in Christmas activations compared to its normal level of activations.
We believe price, business model, target market, and form factor all contribute to the big boost in Kindle activations at Christmas relative to other times of the year. Amazon sells Kindle tablets at cost, putting them within the Christmas budgets of more people than some other devices. The reason Amazon sells tablets at cost is that for them tablets are a channel for promoting physical goods and promoting and delivering digital content. That same retail business model means that Amazon is top of mind for many consumers during the holiday season, giving it lots of opportunity to promote its tablets as Christmas gifts. As we discussed prior to Christmas, Kindle’s new Mayday button makes it a particularly good gift for mobile newbies, and Amazon’s mass-market reach makes it available to those people. Last but not least, as we show subsequently, tablets in general, and WiFi tablets in particular, are the form factor that does best at Christmas, and many Kindles tick both of those boxes.
The combination of form factor and relatively low price probably also helps explain why Acer experiences a greater lift in Christmas activations than many other manufacturers, though the size of that bump is still only a fraction of what Amazon experiences.
In each of the past three years, Apple has experienced a larger Christmas lift than Samsung; however the gap between them narrowed this year compared to previous years. While the magnitude of the Christmas increase is smaller for these manufacturers than for Amazon, their baseline level of activations is so large that even a doubling of daily activations on Christmas (1.9x for Samsung and 2.3x for Apple this year, according to our data) represents a large number of devices.
Overall, while still significant, we can see that the size of the Christmas activation bump has declined over time for most manufacturers who ever had one. Even Amazon has dropped from forty-one times its baseline activations on Christmas 2011 to twenty-four on Christmas 2013. This is likely to be due to the increased overall penetration of smartphones and tablets, and is expected in a maturing industry. With more people having smartphones and tablets there are fewer new users to give them to, and giving to existing users is more challenging since existing users are already tied into carrier contract renewal cycles, app ecosystems, etc.
Wifi Tablets Are The Most Gifted Devices
As shown below, in each of the past three years WiFi tablets have been the most gifted devices, with activations this year more than six times greater on Christmas Day than on an average day in the first three weeks of December. Smartphones are the least gifted connected device form factor with cellular-enabled tablets in between. We believe WiFi tablets are the preferred connected device gift since they work out of the box. Cellular-enabled tablets and smartphones require a data plan, creating an adult gift recipient version of children receiving toys with “batteries not included”. WiFi tablets also tend to be among the least expensive connected devices, making them more accessible gifts for more people.
Will There Be An Amazon Smartphone In Time for Christmas 2014?
Yesterday CNET predicted that Amazon will come out with a smartphone in 2014. We agree. Three of the four factors that help boost Kindle sales at Christmas -- price, business model, and target market – also imply that it would make sense for Amazon to have a smartphone in its connected device portfolio. Whether it arrives by reindeer or drone, you may find one in your stocking next year.
According to IBM, two out of five online retail visits in the U.S. on Black Friday were made from mobile devices, directly generating more than 20% of online retail sales. On Thanksgiving Day, smartphones and tablets accounted for an even greater share of online retail visits and sales (43% of visits and 26% of sales). These results show the extent to which connected devices now influence retail sales, but Flurry’s own Thanksgiving weekend data demonstrates that our relationships with our smartphones and tablets go well beyond picking up a Black Friday deal while picking at Thanksgiving leftovers.
App usage overall in the U.S. spiked by 25% on Thanksgiving compared to the previous Thursday, and not just as a result of shopping app use. The overall pattern of app usage over the Thanksgiving weekend demonstrates that smartphones and tablets have become the first truly personal computers, changing their function as we change our routines. To illustrate that point in this post, we take an in-depth look at U.S. app session starts from the day before Thanksgiving through to Cyber Monday. We compare Thanksgiving week to the week prior, and also compare those time periods for the two previous years. (By including the weekends prior to Thanksgiving for each year we can distinguish between overall growth in app usage and use that is unique to Thanksgiving weekend.)
App Use Spikes on Thanksgiving
The chart below provides a high-level view of how overall app usage has changed from year to year, and changes between the week prior to Thanksgiving and the week of Thanksgiving. The gaps between the green, blue, and gray pairs of lines illustrate the extent to which app usage in the United States has grown year over year, with baseline usage the week before Thanksgiving up by about two-thirds compared to the same time last year, and about triple what it was during November of 2011.
The darker line in each color pair shows Thanksgiving weekend for a particular year while the lighter version shows the prior weekend for that year. The gap between the lighter and the darker lines in a color pair shows the difference in app usage by day between Thanksgiving weekend and the prior weekend. For the past three years, that difference has been greatest on Thanksgiving Day, diminishing to return to normal by Cyber Monday. In 2011 and 2012, U.S. app usage spiked by 20% on Thanksgiving Day compared to the previous Thursday. This year the Thanksgiving spike grew to 25%.
Given mobile devices are so personal, it’s no surprise that they tag along as we enjoy Thanksgiving weekend, but we wanted to understand the drivers behind the Thanksgiving spike in app usage. Is it just mobile shopping? Recipe apps aiding Thanksgiving cooks? Football fans checking stats from the couch? Social networking apps used to stay in touch with family far away? What accounts for the extra app sessions on Thanksgiving?
To find out, we compared app sessions by category for Thanksgiving weekend to the weekend before, focusing on the three days for which there is the biggest difference in overall app use.
The results are shown in the table below. The rows are app categories aggregated across operating systems. The columns show changes in app usage between Thanksgiving week and the same day the previous week for each category. Each cell shows that same comparison between Thanksgiving week and the previous week for the past three years.
Use of Shopping Apps Is Up Overall – Not Just On Black Friday
For obvious reasons, shopping apps consistently spike over the Thanksgiving period. Interestingly the bump this year wasn’t as large as the one last year; however that should not be interpreted to mean that enthusiasm for shopping apps is waning. On the contrary, between 2012 and 2013, overall use of shopping apps in the week before Thanksgiving grew by about 70%, so the 2013 Thanksgiving spike comes on top of a higher baseline usage level.
Media and Gaming Are Even More Popular On Thanksgiving
App categories beyond shopping that saw spikes in app usage during Thanksgiving week are fairly predictable. Media spiked on Thanksgiving Day in particular – most likely in part because it includes photo and video apps used to record family gatherings. It was also somewhat higher on Wednesday and Friday compared to the previous week.
More time for relaxation probably explains why game apps, which are always popular, enjoyed even more use over the Thanksgiving period than the week before.
Even Workaholics And Dedicated Calorie Counters Take Thanksgiving Off
What types of apps experience less use on Thanksgiving and the days immediately before and after than during the previous week? Mainly apps associated with things people take a break from over the Thanksgiving holiday: business and education, health, and news.
Travel apps also experience a decline in use Thanksgiving Day and the day after. That may seem counter-intuitive since Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year; however it’s important to remember that people tend to be traveling to familiar places and often staying with relatives or friends so are less likely to need apps for booking hotels and rental cars or finding their way around an unfamiliar city.
Smartphones and Tablets Have Become Our Constant Companions
So shopping does contribute to the spike in app activity on Thanksgiving, but it’s only part of the explanation. This data shows the extent to which smartphones and tablets have become our constant companions, morphing their function to our whims and circumstances in ways even laptops never really did. They are truly our most personal computers. Sure, you can use them to shop without getting out of bed, let alone braving crowds at the mall, but your device can also entertain you with games, music, and movies. It can even tell you how far you need to walk to make up for that second helping of mashed potatoes – if you choose to look.
Santa is making his list and checking it twice, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming soon it’s time to start making your lists too. As we’ve said before, apps and app usage reveal a lot about the interests and passions of device owners. With that in mind, we’ve compiled app-inspired gift ideas for the smartphone and tablet users on your holiday list.
To do that, we investigated app usage patterns for different Personas (psychographic segments) using a sample of 97,963 randomly selected iOS and Android devices. Our suggestions are based on the apps that members of each Persona use the most or to a greater extent than other smartphone and tablet users.
A Reminder On Giving Apps And Other Digital Content
Many apps are free, but if you want to give paid apps or other paid digital content note that you can give specific music or apps or set up a monthly allowance from Apple’s iTunes and App Store, whereas from Google Play you can only select a gift card. You can always add some suggestions for paid and free apps or other digital content you think a recipient might enjoy to make a gift card a little more personal or transform a holiday card into a gift.
Wishing You Joyful, Gadget-Lit, Holidays From Flurry
The best gifts tap into the recipient’s life and passions. Apps are a great way to gain insights about your loved one’s interests, so before you start shopping look at their phone or tablet for some ideas. We hope this has given you some inspiration for selecting holiday gifts, and wish you a joyful, gadget-lit, holiday season.
Links referenced in the infographic: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
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.
While most of the tech media has congregated outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco waiting for the new Apple tablet, Kara Swisher of All Things D is across the street at the GMIC conference interviewing Lei Jun, the CEO of Xiaomi. Mr. Jun has plenty to talk about. Xiaomi’s newest flagship smartphone the Mi-3 sold 100,000 units in less than 86 seconds and the first batch of its flat panel TVs all sold in less than 2 minutes. Not even Apple can boast of such velocity driven by legions of devoted fans.
The Rise of Xiaomi as a Serious Smartphone Player
Since its first smartphone launch in August 2011, Xiaomi has been on a growth tear in its native China. Based on devices tracked by Flurry, Xiaomi’s installed base of phones has quadrupled since the third quarter last year. In a previous research report, Flurry reported that Xiaomi has become a serious challenger in the smartphone market capturing over 6% of the Chinese market, which is the largest smartphone market in the world. This is more than the market share of HTC and Lenovo and it happened in less than two years.
Media and Entertainment: Xiaomi’s Entry Point to the Market
While consumers rave about Xiaomi’s slick design and performance, it is the company’s software and content strategy that is fueling its growth. Its early focus on mobile content has given it a clear differentiation from other device manufacturers. In addition, its focus on a closed ecosystem has allowed it to focus more on the consumer experience and allowed it to attract a legion of “fan boys” that snap up whatever device the company makes. Xiaomi’s largest critics believe that a closed ecosystem is hard to pull off. This is especially true in China where Tencent is well-entrenched in social networking and gaming and Alibaba has a strong position in e-commerce. However it seems that Xiaomi has found its “killer app” outside of social and commerce and is staking its claim.
To get better insight into that killer app, Flurry looked at the app categories where Xiaomi users spend the most time. While gaming still dominates, it was interesting to see that Xiaomi users spent significantly more time in Media and Entertainment apps than Samsung or Apple users. Compared to iPhone users, Xiaomi customers spend five times as much time in Media and Entertainment aps. While the definition of what goes into Media and Entertainment apps is broad, think of it as content that consumed in the living room and in movie theaters (or the small and big screens.)
Could this simply be a sign of a shift in content consumed on mobile devices, or a clever focus on behalf of Xiaomi? Earlier in the year, Flurry released the below data, showing that Media and Entertainment was the second fastest growing category in mobile, growing much faster than gaming and slightly behind social networking.
So the growth of Media and Entertainment apps is a worldwide phenomenon, but it appears that Xiaomi has claimed its stake in that market segment very strategically and successfully. Taking a page from history, Blackberry used email as its entry point into the smartphone market, unseating Nokia. Then Apple came along and used Music and iTunes (and its access to people’s credit cards) as its entry point into market, unseating Blackberry.
With Media and Entertainment as its entry point and successful entry into the flat panel TV market place (besting Apple), it appears that Xiaomi has taken a page out of Netflix’s playbook to beat the competition at the content game. Granted, today it is “just” China, but Xiaomi is not stopping at its home market. Its latest hire indicates that the company’s ambitions are way beyond the Chinese borders. While its CEO is known to dress like Steve Jobs, it is Netflix’s Reed Hastings, whose long-term focus is on cutting the cable cord and “owning” a good portion of the Media and Entertainment industry, that Mr. Jun needs to be compared to.
In August of this year Flurry Analytics measured 33,527,534 active smartphones and tablets in South Korea. While that was only 2.8% of the entire worldwide connected device installed base Flurry measures, South Korea is an important market for connected devices for several reasons. First, it is the first connected device market in the world to approach saturation. Second, it is Samsung’s home market, and largely as a consequence of that, more of the devices in use there are manufactured by domestic firms than is the case for any other country. Finally, it is home to more phablet fans than anywhere else.
First Saturated Device Market
Worldwide the installed base of connected devices measured by Flurry grew by 81% between August of 2012 and August of 2013, whereas growth for South Korea during the same time period was only 17%. It was a different story just a couple of years ago. During late 2011 and early 2012, the South Korean connected device market grew more rapidly than the worldwide market, as shown by the divergence of the black line from the red in the chart below. This was the period during which Samsung introduced the Galaxy Note. It was the first successful ‘phablet’, enabling Samsung to capture two-thirds of the South Korean mobile phone market, and driving rapid growth in that market. As shown in the graph, that growth has slowed markedly in the past year or so, and has even been negative in some months. That implies that the South Korean connected device market either already is, or will soon be, the first in the world to reach saturation. As such, it provides a good early indicator of what other markets can expect once the rapid growth period the mobile market has experienced over the past few years ends.
Home to Samsung, LG, Pantech, and Phablets
Even as growth in its domestic market has slowed, Samsung continues to dominate the South Korean connected device market. It had a 60% share of a random sample of 3,124 of the devices in our system in South Korea that run iOS or Android apps. Between them, two other South Korean device manufacturers, LG and Pantech, had another 25% of the market, meaning that the vast majority of the smartphones and tablets being used in South Korea (85% of the devices in our sample) are manufactured in South Korea. That dominance of local manufacturers is unique in the world now that Apple’s share of the US market, Blackberry’s share of the Canadian market, and Nokia’s share of the market in Finland have all weakened.
Given that South Korea’s rapid period of connected device growth was ushered in by the phablet, it is perhaps not surprising that it continues to surpass the rest of the world in its preference for that form factor. As shown below, in a worldwide sample of 97,963 iOS and Android devices, only 7% were phablets, but for South Korea that percentage was 41%. The appeal of phablets in South Korea appears to suppress the tablet market there. Worldwide, 19% of the devices in our sample were tablets compared to only 5% in South Korea.
Games Occupy Time And Generate Revenue
Games are the most popular app category in South Korea, as they are in much of the rest of the world. SK Planet's T Store, the largest app store in South Korea, provided data to Flurry showing that 68% of its revenue from apps plus other digital content comes from games. On average, their gaming customers generate ₩5,657 (~U.S. $5.27) per user per month in gaming revenue alone compared to an overall average of ₩3,135 (~U.S. $2.92) per user per month in revenue across all forms of digital content for all customers.
Social networking accounts for a significant share of app activity in South Korea, as it does in many other countries. Tool apps are used heavily by South Korean Android users, and entertainment apps capture a lot of time spent in iOS apps.
Compared to app users elsewhere, South Koreans over-index on Entertainment apps on iOS and several Android app categories (Media / Video, Photography, Lifestyle, Shopping, and Tools).
As in the U.S., the vast majority of apps used in South Korea – 96% of those available through the T Store – are free.
What Happens Once The Connected Device Market is Saturated?
The fact that the South Korean connected device market is saturated (or very close to being saturated) makes it an interesting test case for considering the future of the connected device market worldwide. What happens once more or less everyone who is likely to is carrying at least one smartphone or tablet?
One area to keep an eye on is new uses for connected devices, such as mobile payments. South Korea is a world leader in mobile payments – probably in part because of the prevalence of NFC-enabled devices. For example, SK Planet has a mobile payment system called T Cash, which is used for 54% of in app purchases, and also can be used to pay for off-device transactions such as train and taxi fares. Interestingly, another third of in app purchases are paid for using gift certificates, demonstrating the potential of mobile devices as a mechanism for giving and receiving gifts. It doesn’t seem like a big leap for that to go from in app purchases to physical goods that could be delivered or picked up with the mobile device used for authentication. Already merchants in South Korea are using tablets to manage payments, inventory, and even promotion.
Another area to watch is interoperability across connected devices. The fact that Samsung manufactures smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs (as well as other consumer electronics that are becoming part of the Internet of things) makes it well-positioned to better integrate those devices and the content that runs on them. With Samsung being so dominant in South Korea and that market being so well developed for connected devices, it is a logical test market for products and services that take advantage of that type of cross-device integration.
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