Early Warning Signs: iPhone Apps Might Not Be As Popular As Believed

from the people-don't-use-them dept

While the iPhone App Store is being used by some as an example of people willing to pay for software, people might want to wait before declaring the store a complete success. New research is coming out suggesting that many apps — both paid and unpaid — don’t get much usage after they’re purchased. The further out you go, the fewer and fewer apps people use. While this may mean that Apple and some lucky developers are making money from users who spend on apps they don’t use, this should actually be an early warning that the App Store and the various apps in there aren’t really delivering the value that users are expecting. That doesn’t bode well for the long-term sustainability of the system. If people feel they’re spending money on apps that don’t have much value, they’re going to be a lot less likely to come back later.

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Comments on “Early Warning Signs: iPhone Apps Might Not Be As Popular As Believed”

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Ron (profile) says:

Always Been True

This observation does not apply only to iPhones. I’m sure everyone has a pile of apps sitting on their desktops that are used rarely or never. They were things that looked cool at one time or maybe were replaced by better things or maybe belonged to an interest that has faded. I have piles of stuff on my desktop and that I got for my Treo (just replaced by an iPhone) that I used a lot at one time and then lost track of (eBook apps, games, a guitar tuner, etc.). But, no one (that I heard) said that because some apps were used infrequently that the software business for Windows PC’s was built on a poor business platform.

Frankly, after a week with my iPhone, I would be more concerned that Apple had no f*cking clue what a device that was actually used for business or real life should include. I think that until Apple gets a real designer on board, the app store will be used to obtain apps that fill the gaps Apple left in its design.

some old guy (user link) says:

Re: Always Been True

I think that until Apple gets a real designer on board, the app store will be used to obtain apps that fill the gaps Apple left in its design.

That was always their intention. What I find disturbing is that you don’t seem to see that. They intentionally provided “just a platform”, and gave others the full capability to produce applications on top of that platform.

Why you’re railing against this, I don’t understand.

Bill W (profile) says:

Missed the point, I think

I think the original article misses the point completely. I have many apps, many, many apps come to think of it, that I have purchased over the years for my PCs (originally) and my Macs (now) and a few of them don’t get much use at all. I am finding the same situation on my iPhone.

But so what? People probably had fewer apps that went unused on the desktop platform because those were comparatively expensive. With the ‘phone a lot of apps are free or a buck or two. So I am MUCH more likely to pay to try an app out even if it turns out that it wasn’t that useful or interesting in the end.

But just because I have a higher percentage of “uninteresting” applications piling up on the phone there can be lots and lots of them until I get to the eighty bucks or so that a desktop app might have set me back. Plus, if I buy an uninteresting app from Company A I would be doubtful about getting another from the some company. But on the ‘phone there are 1000’s of developers and the taint of uninteresting doesn’t necessarily go beyond the original app and that developer.

So, no, I don’t think the momentum is likely to be killed by unused apps any more than the likelyhood that you’ll stop buying cookies in the market if you bought one kind that you didn’t care for. If you find you don’t like Nabisco cookies you may stop buying them but may still consider Keebler.

Gyffes (profile) says:

Ron's part-right

when he asserts that noone goes around saying, “damn, you’re wasting all that harddrive space with those 5 different text editors (heck, M$ ships its OS with two!), 4 different image manipulation programs and, what’s that, FOUR browsers??” I recently had the good fortune to setup four new macs and did so in part based on my own setup: I was astonished by how many apps I had that I’d once deemed crucial but that I felt could be left out of these new setups..

As for the apps on my iPT: yeah, there are some I tried and dismissed, there are even a few I paid for that fall into that category. And there are apps I have that fall into disuse — one doesn’t feel like doing tanagrams or playing solitaire ALL the time.

And there are a few apps I leave on b/c some day Apple will allow an external keyboard to work with my iPT and then I’ll have THE KILLER work-device in my pocket.

’til then, it’s insanely useful and, with 32gb of space on it, loaded with apps that I MIGHT use if I felt like it.

Michael Kohne says:

PDA apps

The situation of apps that get initial use then get forgotten has been around forever in both the desktop and portable market. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve loaded then removed on my various Palms over the years.

This is just the same old thing on the new platform – people can’t really tell until they get it on there and really use it whether it’s going to work out or not.

There’s nothing new under the sun…

Pope Ratzo (profile) says:

Wow, get a load of the people who are HAPPY to be buying apps that they don’t use, because it’s APPLE after all.

Apple must be putting some mind control software on their products. That’s the only possible explanation. I better get some lead shielding for my MacBook Pro.

There’s already a much better distribution channel for useless apps: it’s called “bittorrent”. That way, if you find something useful, THEN you can pay for it.

In fact, I just downloaded Logic 8 that way. If it works the way I hope, I’ll buy a copy. Otherwise, that’s what the trash can is for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not useful apps done by amatures = business apps

Many software firms spec out their release plans in 3+ year increments. Some companies, such as Oracle, have already have gone to market with iPhone client software that allows customers of their ERP/CRM systems to interact with the data on the iPhone platform, thereby increasing productivity.

Still, it seems that Apple has a leg up and what they’ve been able to accomplish is at breakneck speed. I theorize there will be more professional apps that cater to business crowd in the future.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

I have bought at least 8 apps that I don't use for the iPhone.

The apps for the iPhone are generally so cheap that if I bought an app that is just not that good I don’t feel it’s that big of a deal. Any time you buy software you take the risk even if you try the trial version that it just will not be what you expect. With the iPhone so I spent $4 bucks to buy an app that sucks so what? Where most apps for windows or mac cost 5 times that it really isn’t that big of a deal.

Anonymous Coward says:

I no longer buy apps. I no longer need to.

I have a few apps I purchased and no longer use, sometimes because I feel I have gotten their worth and moved on (games mostly) and sometimes because I felt they were worthless and were replaced by something better suited to my needs. The cost was low so I don’t feel burned. As others have pointed out this is a common experience with all technology platforms and the cost has frequently been much higher.

What I have been able to do in only a few months was find applications that duplicated all the functionality I required from my old PDA on my iPhone and all for under $20. I now rarely buy an app, but not because the app store has proven worthless, but because it has proven it’s worth.

Christopher Froehlich (profile) says:


As almost everyone else has iterated:

1. When applications are free or cost so little as to be trivial expenses, consumers will try more apps and forget more apps than they would otherwise. Consider video game demos, shareware applications that promise to streamline x process or fix y widget or boost z performance, and any number of 30-day trial programs that you desperately hope will solve your need.

At the end of the day, little has changed from the classic retail buy-and-return consumer. In this case, the cost to buy is so negligible that we substitute a delete for a return.

2. The free market will sort itself out. Poor execution will always exceed good execution, because ideas are cheap. If the market allows any execution of an idea to compete, there will always be more poor executions than good. Depending on the cost to the consumer, this can mean that more widgets lie unused in the basement than gadgets sit gleaming in the kitchen; but this does not mean the market has failed. Rather, the market and consumer are evolving together.

Of course, the App Store is not a truly free market, so evolution is somewhat confined and contrived. The App Store has evolved to meet consumer demands, and there (of yet) no reason to believe it will not continue to bend and bow to the wind of consumer whim. Should it not, the bow will break, and the consumer will fall into another market.

Ernie Oporto (profile) says:


It’s amazing that this wonderful software, that is so cheap as to hit the “throw money away” sweet spot usually associated with candy, is still the subject of theft. I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that said they would try it and they pay if they like it – and never ever did.

It helps if you’re a little pickier about what you buy and do a little research before plunking down the money. Just to keep yourself honest.

Rosetta Stoned says:

I would agree with the article, although I own a G1. A few days ago Google opened up the marketplace to applications that users can pay for. Before that, everything was free.

Most of the apps I’ve downloaded were brilliant programs written by regular people trying to make the G1 work like it should have right out of the box. I wouldn’t have paid for any of these programs in advance, because I wouldn’t have had any idea how much each one would (or wouldn’t) improve my G1.

I would like to pay for some of these free apps but can’t figure out a way to do it. I have no plans on downloading anything that costs money in advance of using it. Also, the day that paid apps went online, an extraordinary amount of junk was suddenly clogging up the G1 marketplace. The fart program was a goldmine once – for the guy who wrote the app for the IPHONE, and now, there’s three or four fart programs for sale on the G1.

etymonline.com (user link) says:

Trying to Decide

I have a web site, an online etymology dictionary, that gets heavy use (a little over a million unique visits a month). I’m trying to decide whether to hire someone to convert it into an iphone app. My research into this has started literally from nothing, since I’m not a likely user for such a product and have a terrible history at making decisions involving money.

But if people can browse the Internet from an iphone, why would they pay to download the same content? Unless I can make a silly monkey game out of the content, I’m not seeing the point of paying thousands to have someone create an app program from it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Trying to Decide

“But if people can browse the Internet from an iphone, why would they pay to download the same content?”

OK, two things here:

1. There’s a lot of iPhone apps that aren’t charged for. That’s not to say that any investment in creating them is a waste of money – the apps could be an invaluable way to drive traffic to your site and retain repeat visitors to complement whatever way you currently have of recouping costs. Look at, for example, apps made by Bloomberg or Facebook – given away free of charge, but they keep people using those sites.

If there’s anything that users would potentially pay for, I’d say it would be a nicely formatted, offline version of the dictionary that they can browse at their leisure without having to be online (remember “iPhone apps” also get installed on iPod Touches, which can only be online if the user is near a wifi point).

2. How is your site formatted? How does it appear on the iPhone? There are many examples of sites that look OK on a PC browser screen but horrible on an iPhone or similar small-factor screen. I suspect that your site is one of them at first glance. Therefore, while an iPhone app would be a good idea for people wishing to visit on the move, maybe your money would be better spend creating a special iPhone version of the site to be viewed through the small screen’s browser.

IMHO (and I’m not an expert here), you need to look at your current users first. How many of them are already visiting through iPhones? Why not involve your users in the decision – ask them if they would want an app, and if so what price range they’d be willing to pay? Are there iPhone-specific features they’d be interested in (e.g. an offline version), or would they just be interested in seeing a nicely formatted layout on their screen?

rik says:

Re: Trying to Decide

I love your site! I’m also new to iPhone, and your site was one of the first I visited. Etymonline is perfectly usable on iPhone, but the text sizing could be just a tad better-sized for the iPhone screen. I don’t think you need an app for this – maybe just an alternate layout for iPhone users. The iPhone already conveniently allows me to, in a sense, create an “app” as a bookmark on the main screen. (I now have an etymonline “app” next to my other real apps.) So maybe all you’d really need is an alternate URL to a reformatted interface, and it’d be killer! Thanks so much for putting your time into this project. I’m telling all my word-nerd friends about it and showing off my mad instant-etymology skillz thanks to iPhone. :))

joe says:

all free

I’ve downloaded more apps than the interface will display…9 pages of 16 apps. I have since deleted over half of them, I downloaded, I played, I deleted. But there are some REAL Gems left over, and I use many of them EVERY DAY. VNC, subnet calculator, poker, solitare, myspace, facebook, etc.

some apps are just plain junk. But who’s complaining about an app that they didn’t pay a cent for? I’ve paid 5-600 dollars for junk on my Windose PC and once the shrink wrap is busted good luck getting a refund.

ppl who complain about this delivery model are moroons

steve (profile) says:

I had so much fun jailbreaking and modding my iphone, but now it looks pretty, and it’s boring. yeah, it has (most of)the whole internet(if you don’t count any site with flash), but even surfing on mobile safari gets to be slow and tedious. I don’t really have any complaints about the phone, but after owning a 3g iphone for 6 months, I’ve realized that i never use it except for basic smart phone things like email and reading blogs.

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