No more apps, please

The latest research from ComScore reveals what may be obvious if you think about it: you don’t really want any more apps on your smartphone. One top finding in the report (covered in Slate, Quartz, and probably many other places) is that 65% of smartphone owners in the US downloaded zero apps in a given month. People still spend plenty of time using mobile apps, but that usage is focused on a small number of very popular ones (which you can probably name). Looking at the stats on the share of time spent on various apps, once you’re past Facebook, Pandora, YouTube, and Instagram, no app cracks the 3% barrier (except SnapChat for the 18-24 set).

These data on the concentration of app usage, and the lack of attention to new apps, mirror the findings in the latest VisionMobile developer survey, which looks at mobile apps from the supply side, as it were. Their survey of over 10,000 app developers found that “the majority of app businesses are not sustainable at current revenue levels.” Furthermore,

50% of iOS developers and 64% of Android developers are below the ‘app poverty line” of $500 per app per month. 24% of developers interested in making money earn  nothing at all. A further 23% make less than $100 per app per month.

It’s not surprising that the mobile app market is like so many other media markets: music, movies, books: a very small number of huge hits, followed by a very long, and mostly ignored, tail.

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Mobile Diary: successful online ads and other imaginary creatures

If you’re looking for an enjoyable read, I recommend The Ad Contrarian, a blog about all things advertising from ad industry veteran Bob Hoffman. This is a great place to read contrarian opinions about online and mobile advertising, and the tendency of advertisers and other marketing types to focus on “youth” markets instead of other demographics (who may have more money to spend).

Here’s a recent post about the lack of real data about any aspect of online advertising. I thought about this after checking out a new feature in Facebook that claims to allow you to opt out of some targeted ads on that service. FB links you to a service (still in beta) that lets you see which companies use behavioral techniques to target ads to you, and opt out of those services.

The fun part for me, especially in the context of the above article (and the related Slate piece it quotes) was visiting the web sites of a bunch of behavioral advertising companies, and seeing how they spin their services and technologies. There seem to be an awful lot of smart (or at least well-educated) people out there applying all sorts of sophisticated computer models to delivering the right ad to you at the right time, all in hopes of increasing click-through rates from negligible to almost-negligible (as I remember, one company trumpeted its success in increasing CTR to 0.42%).

I suppose that as an advertiser, you have to spend your budget on something, but it’s amazing to see how little benefit seems to come from all that analysis.

Mobile Diary: the keyboards are back!

The new Blackberry CEO, John Chen, plans to focus on devices with physical keyboards in the future. This from an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, reporting on an interview with Chen at CES.

Chen said “I personally love the keyboards,” and will be more aggressive in promoting that now-unique feature of Blackberry smartphones, starting with a patent infringement suit against the Blackberry-like Typo Keyboard, which was announced at CES.

Happy to see that Mr. Chen is taking my advice

Not so mobile diary: Vinyl is back!

WP_20131109_001This is not a mobile story as such, but worth noting anyway. According to Digital Music News, vinyl records seem to be back, at least among a small section of the music buying public. What’s more, it’s not the older folks (like me) buying those big plastic disks:

Michael Kurtz, [Record Store Day]’s co-founder, told USA Today that RSD vinyl sales are trending younger. In 2007, the average customer age was 49, now it is 23.  Kurtz also estimates that customers under 25 are buying 70 percent of the vinyl, saying: “It’s the young generation’s thing. They’ve adopted it“.

I remember hearing from the user experience team at Vodafone that their goal for any mobile app or service was something like “5 seconds to enjoyment.” Our assumption in the mobile world was always that customers want more stuff, more quickly and conveniently. It’s interesting to see this evidence of at least some desire for slower, and perhaps higher-quality, experiences. Slow food, meet “slow music”?

Mobile Diary: Not enough keyboard love?

BlackBerry announced very disappointing results today, including a loss of almost $1 billion on sales of $1.6 billion in the most recent quarter. Most of the bleeding appears to have come from poor sales of the new Z10 smartphone.

Here’s a thought: could BB have done better by focusing on its QWERTY Q10 device first, instead of trying to play touch-screen catchup with the rest of the industry? With all of the nearly-identical black rectangles in the market, the physical keyboard was BlackBerry’s best differentiator, and perhaps one they should have done more to promote.

Mobile dollars to donuts

Last Sunday’s New York Times included this article about the addictive nature of mobile apps, and the irresistible pressure to use mobile apps and services that are ever more intrusive and require ever more personal data. Specifically, Claire Cain Miller is concerned about Google Now, a new predictive search service that apparently promises to tell you what you need to know even before you thought you needed to know it.

Miller describes the arrogance of Google engineers (“…We’re just building the dream, and clearly users will have to get comfortable with it.”), and identifies a real potential problem with apps like Now: (“They give too much information to advertisers or the government, people fear, and eliminate the unpredictability of human existence.”).

Despite these serious issues, Miller finds Google Now to be first creepy, then considerate, then a trusted part of her daily life. So where’s the problem? Despite Miller’s happiness with this new tool, she still claims to be concerned that Google engineers (and presumably others in the Valley of Silicon) are not thinking enough about the “moral and privacy implications” of apps like these, and wishes that they would “fully engage with all of (technology’s) messy human implications.”

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Good luck. Google writes addictive, intrusive apps for the same reason that Krispy Kreme makes yummy donuts; they’re doing what they know how to do best in order to make lots of money for their employees and shareholders. I don’t expect that Krispy Kreme managers are that concerned either with the “messy human implications” of freshly baked donuts

It’s up to us as consumers to deal with those human implications through our actions. If you find a new app creepy, don’t use it. If you want to manage your diet, don’t eat donuts. True, this is hard and often not pleasant, but it is the most effective way to encourage those companies to change.

For all their talk about managing the world’s information and serving the greater good, Google, like other tech (and donut) companies, are public corporations driven primarily by revenues and profits, and by consumer reaction to their products. If customers don’t buy and use Google’s stuff, Google will have to stop making that stuff, and work on other (better, one hopes) stuff to please them.

Photo by Back to the Cutting Board from flickr