Mobile app market worth $35 billion? Depends on the definition

appsBy almost any account, 2010 was “the year of the app,” but just how big will the app market become? Research firm IDC this week put some numbers to paper, predicting worldwide mobile app downloads to grow from 10.9 billion in 2010 to 76.9 billion in 2014 — with mobile app revenues reaching $35 billion in the same time frame.

Said Scott Ellison, IDC’s VP, Mobile and Connected Consumer Platforms:

“Mobile app developers will ‘appify’ just about every interaction you can think of in your physical and digital worlds. The extension of mobile apps to every aspect of our personal and business lives will be one of the hallmarks of the new decade with enormous opportunities for virtually every business sector.”

IDC said it based its forceasts on company financials, product announcements and its quarterly survey of the Appcelerator mobile developer base.

It’s good that IDC put a stake in the ground, but the definition of what constitutes an app could complicate matters.

For instance, just today Microsoft was rumored to be readying the launch of some new tablets, driven by HTML 5 “apps” delivered from publisher Web sites rather than native apps delivered via an app store. Meanwhile, Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion recently called mobile apps a “fad” likely to fade away (though with the Blackberry lagging rivals in apps, that’s perhaps not surprising).

But other questions will impact the size of the mobile app market as well: Will apps proliferate to reach TV sets and connected set-top boxes? It seems likely. And how will the monetization trends for mobile apps evolve? Will users continue to shell out for apps? Will advertising underwrite them? Or will in-app purchasing — still in its infancy and somewhat problematic and splintered — become the main revenue driver?

Based on its research, the organization expects accelerated growth in the mobile apps market as even more applications make their way to tablets, Internet (Internet)-connected TVs and other devices in the years ahead.

“Mobile app developers will ‘appify’ just about every interaction you can think of in your physical and digital worlds,” says Scott Ellison, IDC mobile and wireless research vice president.

Essentially, IDC is making the claim that mobile applications, and associated revenues, are here to stay. It’s a conclusion that seems reasonable considering how lucrative and popular apps like Angry Birds have been, and the current ubiquity of mobile applications. Previous research from the Pew Internet Project points to 24% of the U.S. adult population using apps, with app users having 18 apps on their device on average.

Still, there are some — RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, for instance — who believe that the “appification” of the web is a fad that is destined to flatline.

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