2016 saw many of the usual suspects, such as social media and games, dominating distribution and customer usage time. There were a few surprises, however, which look to build momentum moving into the new year as app developers continue to innovate. According to Apple and Google Play Store sales figures and industry projections, you can expect these app categories to continue to sit on top of the market through 2017.
If there was anyone out there who still doubted the power and ubiquity of social media in everyday life, the 2016 election should have convinced them once and for all — it most likely was the difference in choosing the incoming United States president, with Donald Trump spending almost half of what the Clinton team did on advertising yet leveraging the low cost and broad reach of social media more successfully. An estimated 78% of the whole United States population has some form of social media account.
The heavy hitters in this space look to remain the same for the near future. Facebook still has over 1.8 billion users worldwide, and the company has been consistently and steadily growing for nearly a decade now. In the mobile space, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and SnapChat are dominating direct interpersonal communication by text, audio and video. Other major players include Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Yik Yak. For business, LinkedIn remains the king.
With all of these giants in the field already, is there room for anyone new? There actually are serious problems in social media that require innovation to solve. As was also demonstrated by the election, the proliferation of fake news stories is becoming a serious problem. And civility has always been a problem.
Since almost 70% of adults in the United States now have smartphones, it’s only natural that weather apps would be high up on the list — everyone wants to know when it’s going to rain or snow, and how hot or cold it’s going to be, and the smartphone is the most convenient place to do it from.
This is another area where big, established companies tend to dominate with their apps. The Weather Channel, Weather Underground, AccuWeather and Yahoo Weather are the most frequently used. There’s some room for smaller players in this field, however, specifically in apps that focus on one specific activity that is impacted by the weather. Foresee, used for outdoor sports like golf and skiing, is a successful established example of this nature. There’s also room for traditional forecast apps to improve in terms of interface and fun bonus features, as demonstrated by Wthr.
The quest for a really good mobile web browser continues. More people than ever are browsing the web with their phones, or at least attempting to, but there’s still no “big name” web browser that offers the reliability that the desktop versions of Firefox, Chrome and IE do.
Part of that is that the web has not universally embraced mobile-friendly responsive design that caters to phones, but perhaps a bigger part is that mobile browsers just tend to not be very good. They have bugs, they like to crash, they lag, they have irritating interfaces, and sometimes they entirely stop working for no apparent reason.
The most commonly used mobile browsers tend to parallel those used on desktops and laptops: Safari, Chrome, IE, Firefox. None of them are as good as their “big brother” versions, however, leaving a large opening for new players.
People aren’t about to stop playing games, either. Mobile games were the largest driver of growth in the nearly $100 billion dollar industry in 2016, with projections of overall growth of about $6 billion each year for the next few years. Mobile revenue also exceeded that of console and PC games for the first time ever in 2016.
Unlike some other app arenas, gaming is wide open to even entry-level players with small budgets. Many mobile games that are now household names came from tiny, previously unknown and often self-funded publishers — some major examples include Fruit Ninja, Cut The Rope, iShoot and Crossy Road.
As with weather apps, since so many people are now carrying smartphones, smartphones have now become the preferred means of listening to music while out and about (especially considering that streaming cloud storage now offers the ability to circumvent local memory limitations).
Of course, there are huge barriers of entry here, such as bandwidth and storage for all the music and licensing the rights to it. Big players like Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora and Tidal are unlikely to be dethroned by upstarts anytime soon.