Don’t believe everything you hear – the smartphone and mobile app industries are alive and kicking.

Despite the rise of bots and forecasts of far-off, sci-fi alternatives like embedded neurotechnology, that smartphone in your pocket won’t be obsolete anytime soon. And the apps you use to communicate with friends, track your health, and entertain yourself on the bus? You’ll be depending on them for years to come.

However, the one trend in mobile app usage that should interest us in the short term is that people are using fewer of them. And the ones they do use – they’re incredibly loyal to. Examining data from SensorTower and Nielson, the results are clear. People spend the majority of their daily smartphone time on the #1 app and 9-10 minutes per day on the top 5.

But what does this mean for mobile app developers? What’s the future in developing a mobile app that gains traction and becomes beloved by the masses?

The answers, as always, are in the data. Prior to September 2018, the majority of mobile app data available to the public was based only on the Apple Store. In this case, it’s a first-of-its-kind dataset from Kaggle based on the Google Play Store and detailed in our latest GoFigure! report.

Popularity by the Numbers (Popularity as Defined by a 16-Year-Old)

For most of us, the word “popularity” brings us straight back to high school. The popular kids were the ones with the most friends, or in the case of mobile app categories, the categories with the highest number of standalone apps.

To help demonstrate this single, isolated definition of popularity, we use the Kaggle dataset to first identify the most saturated app categories. Of the 33 app categories, which include 7,888 apps in the Google Play Store, the categories with the highest number of apps are Family (19% of all apps), Games (11% of all apps), and Tools (9% of all apps).

So if we choose to measure popularity solely on the number of apps in a category, we find that the top 9% of categories are home to 39% of all apps in the Google Play Store.

Quality Over Quantity (Popularity as Defined by a Busy, Aging Millennial)

As adults, we all know the truth. When you truly need support, the number of friends you have doesn’t matter much. There are few deeply trusted allies who will actually have your back when you need them. This is exactly how we treat our apps, and exactly where app developers can find intriguing opportunities for developing new apps in a saturated sea of apps.

This GoFigure! report expands on the definition of popularity by examining two additional data points:

  1. Number of app installs per category (of a total 75 billion installs across all categories)
  2. Reviews and app ratings per category (of 20.9 billion reviews given on a scale of 1-5 across all categories)

So how do our 3 top categories (Family, Games, Tools) hold up against a more rigorous definition of popularity? We break all 33 app categories into 4 groups to demonstrate this shift.

Group A – The Ill-Fated Adventures to Avoid

Categories with high app ratings and high installs

On average, apps in this segment are very popular and the users in this segment have a high app satisfaction rating. The chances that you’ll develop the “next big thing” in these categories is relatively low. Your chances are the lowest in Tools and Games, categories which are already oversaturated with options.

Group B – The Next Big Thing

Categories with high app ratings and low installs

In this segment, users also have relatively high satisfaction with their apps, but the apps in this segment have mid-low installs. Based on the high app satisfaction rating in this segment, these categories have the potential to increase app installs. And not only that, with the highest rates of satisfaction and relatively undersaturated categories, a new Medical, Education, or Parenting app has a chance to make waves.

Group C – The Apps We Love to Hate

Categories with low app ratings and high installs

In this segment, users have relatively low to mid rates of satisfaction with their apps. But apps in this segment are installed at relatively high rates. It won’t be surprising to see a decrease in the installs of apps in these categories based on lower rates of satisfaction. The Family category, in particular, is a great example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With the highest number of apps per category across all categories, the highest rate of installs, and a relatively low satisfaction rating, our initial perception of popularity means nothing.

Group D – It’s Gonna Take a Miracle

Categories with low app ratings and low installs

In this segment, users have a relatively low to mid rate of satisfaction with their apps, and the apps in this segment have low to mid installs. Users expect an improvement to the apps in these categories. Mostly, in Libraries and Demo, Dating, and Events.

What else impacts popularity?

With the massive numbers involved, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees when trying to measure and establish the criteria for apps’ effectiveness. As the market for apps has escalated and matured, it’s no longer sufficient to identify successful apps based simply on the number of downloads. There are apps and categories of apps that lend themselves particularly well to mobile use, such as health apps – those connected to medical devices and wearables.

But, apps of these kinds sometimes target specific, niche markets or user groups. Consequently, the number of users is too crude a measurement with which to judge them, and it’s this situation that has given rise to our analysis.

While install and satisfaction rates are the most immediate options for digging deeper into the true scale of popularity, the GoFigure! Interactive Dashboard gives you two additional data points to explore: paid vs. free apps and app size. And the results may surprise you!

Download the full report See the interactive dashboard
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