Sunset on the First Age of Mobile Apps

Micah Kulish
Jun 14, 2016 · 3 min read

Since the launch of the Apple App Store in 2008, mobile programs have been a centerpiece of the software eating our world. But there is a growing consensus that the app market is broken and consumer habits are moving beyond the wild west days of “There’s an app for that.”

We’re reaching a serious turning point in the future of mobile and strong signs are emerging that we’re in the twilight of the first major movement in the world of mobile applications. Here are a few indicators changes on the horizon.

Some Leaving Apps Behind

Recently Patagonia pushed a notification informing their app users they will soon be shutting down their mobile application. This move is a move with serious implications. Patagonia is known to push the boundaries of brand strategy, and this signals another strong statement. To-date, consumer brands have been flocking headlong toward mobile apps. But with consumer usage consolidating around gaming and social networks, more brands may begin leaving their mobile apps behind for a truly cross-platform experience in browsers.

Patagonia is now driving users to their site, re-doubling their efforts to provide a seamless experience, no matter the device. And while there is nothing to indicate that all branded apps will disappear, Patagonia’s bold move is signalling a change in the tide for companies that once staked their future on mobile OS apps.

Consumer Habits are Shifting in a Big Way

The second signal of the shift in mobile is the overall decline of the apps as covered by Recode. Though the global app market is still growing, it is also slowing. The average American smartphone user now downloads zero new apps per month. Consumers who were once constantly trying apps are downloading less and deleting quickly. While companies are marketing their apps now more than ever, it seems consumer appetites are declining despite the fact that mobile usage is higher than ever.

Subscriptions Are Coming to All the Apps

The most insightful look at the future of apps recently came from Apple’s own Phil Schiller who outlined the massive changes coming to the App Store. Apple will soon introduce a new revenue model for developers and create an ad market for apps within the App Store to expand discoverability. As the app market becomes more competitive, Apple is focused on opening new doors of sustainability for app developers.

Among the myriad of changes Schiller announced, the key may be Apple’s shift in payment platform. Apple is moving away from an emphasis on up-front payment toward a new subscription based system. This subscription payment system, which was once only open to news and media apps, will soon go live for every type of app in the App Store. In the future, the way consumers pay for Spotify or Netflix may be the way they pay for apps of all types. Apple sees subscriptions sitting at the crossroads of driving new revenue and tapping into growing consumer payment preferences.

Invest in Ecosystems Not Apps

All signs show mobile usage is still on the rise. The shift of our current app market will not shake mobile as a whole. Mobile computing has changed the way we use the Internet in almost every way. But apps in their current state may soon be seen as a relic.

To stay abreast of the undercurrent changes in technology, large organizations must shift their platform strategy. Rather than staking future in current-state mobile applications, leaders must look to create a digital ecosystem of experiences to support the customer at every interaction point. here are few emerging areas companies need to begin exploring:

Mobile will continue to be the central battleground for consumer’s interest and interaction. But we are on the cusp of a new age, and enterprise must invest in platform ecosystem. The digital undercurrent is changing quickly and only those who invest in calculated experimentation will see success.

Micah Kulish

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the internet’s nicest man. strategist.