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The future is full of 'appyness': what’s next for the smartphone apps market?

by Adelynne Chao , 29.08.2012

There’s an app for just about everything

‘There’s an app for that’ – with thousands of new smartphone apps being developed every day, this phrase (coined by Apple in 2009) is beginning to seem a reality. Our research indicates that 80% of smartphone users have experienced downloading and using apps. However, with today’s fast paced technology market, there are signs that apps are already moving into a new phase.

The future is smarter, connected and integrated apps

So far, apps have successfully extended the functionality of smartphones. Instagram is a great example, giving smartphone-camera users a whole new experience when taking photos. Yet apps have their limitations. Most tend to work in isolation and there is currently limited ability to link and connect different apps. The future of apps will depend on their ability to work seamlessly together to provide a rich and integrated experience.

We found that 46% of heavy apps users consider an improvement in apps integration as important. And this appears to have already been realised by smartphone manufacturers. BlackBerry is known for its integrated inbox solution, where messages and notifications from all messaging, IM and social networking apps are shown in one inbox. Android users get more choice in terms of sharing content, and are even able to program the default app of their choice for sharing. One of Apple’s latest announcements ‘Passbook’, due for release this fall, is a wallet-style feature that creates a home for various barcode scanning apps (boarding passes, loyalty cards, vouchers etc.) to sit. Where previously users would have had several different apps for each particular purpose, they will all now commune in one location.

Apps will work better with proprietary software

Not only must apps engage more seamlessly with each other, but in order to provide the best experience they also have to communicate better with the smartphone’s proprietary software. Notifications, for example, are fundamentally controlled by the smartphone’s operating system. Thinking again about Passbook, Apple has provided a location-based notification system for these apps that will improve their convenience by popping up with the relevant store card or boarding pass when in the vicinity of that particular store or airport. This concept can be broadened; enhanced notifications could allow users to preview reminders and tick off tasks directly within the notification without having to enter the app itself. Indeed, we found that those users for whom productivity is important are twice as likely to consider an enhanced notifications solution as important.

The simplicity of apps needs to remain intact

Initially, the success of apps was partly driven by their simplicity. When first introduced, apps were laid out in a grid style on the iPhone, easy to download and access, with each fulfilling a specific function. Apple has made an effort to maintain this simplicity in new software versions whilst also strictly controlling apps’ ability to interact with the phone’s operating system in a bid to tighten security. Ultimately, a two-tier app landscape may emerge, where the big name app developers are trusted to access deeper layers of the smartphone operating system to provide the integration and advanced functionality that users are looking for. Meanwhile, smaller apps will continue to be ‘sandboxed’ and less integrated with the operating system but will work well to provide simple functionality.

Billions of apps downloaded, but it’s just the beginning

It has been four years since dedicated app stores came into existence. In that time, billions of apps have been downloaded to smartphones worldwide but this industry is only just getting started. Apple is attempting to provide a more integrated apps experience with its ‘Newsstand’ and ‘Game Center’ apps and now ‘Passbook’. Google recently announced the introduction of TV shows, movies and magazine subscriptions to their Google Play store whilst the new BlackBerry 10 operating system from RIM promises to offer excitement for 2013. As demonstrated, for manufacturers it will become less about who has the most apps and more about who can make them work best for the user. And what does this mean for app developers? If they can think beyond what is currently possible then the changing landscape provides a key opportunity to get ahead of the rest in a fast paced and competitive industry.