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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Apps are everywhere, and their presence on smartphones and other mobile devices is only increasing. Although it didn't launch with the original device, Apple's App Store has become synonymous with the iPhone. It's a place where users can go to find games, tools, and other useful programs. The popularity of apps has spread to other devices and developers. Google launched its own variant of the App Store called the Marketplace. Similarly, BlackBerry devices can access BlackBerry App World and Windows Phone 7 devices can download content from the Market. Even Amazon, a company with no smartphones and only one tablet on the market, has launched its own App Store.

The massive popularity of apps started in 2007 when the first iPhone launched, and it's only grown since then. The Android Market has more than 400,000 apps. The iPhone's App Store just reached 25 billion downloads. Despite these eye-popping figures, apps still haven't reached their apex. 2013 looks like it will be the year that mobile apps become ubiquitous.
Why 2013? A couple of factors come into play. The first and most obvious is the smartphone ownership rate within the United States and other countries. As of 2011, an estimated 35% of adults in the United States owned smartphones. Even more recent data shows that owners of smartphones outnumber feature phone owners. Even still, the growth of the smartphone hasn't slowed down a bit. According to Google's Andy Rubin, more than 850,000 Android devices are activated each day. This is just one ecosystem, and doesn't take into account all of the new iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 devices being activated. Smartphone ownership is projected to top 50% of Americans by next year.

On top of that, this is all just in the United States. Consider that right now, China Mobile has more than 650 million customers, with 15 million using the iPhone despite it not being officially available for the carrier. Instances like this show that there is significant demand for smartphones in other parts of the world; manufacturers have simply failed to meet the demand so far. As smartphone ownership rates continue to rise, so will the prevalence of mobile apps.
Aside from smartphone ownership rates, the technology behind mobile apps is also expected to make way for a massive surge in the abundance and quality of apps. The technology advancements being made are swift but broad, and they all come down to one thing: HTML5.
Right now, despite the availability of HTML5, the overwhelming majority of apps aren't web apps. Instead, they're native apps written for a specific platform. Android apps, for instance, are written in Java, while apps for Apple's iOS are written using Objective C. This leads to fragmentation between platforms regarding what apps are made available, as well as fewer developers placing their apps on every platform as opposed to a few separate ones.
By this time next year, more developers will have gravitated towards HTML5. One recent article projected that one billion HTML5 apps will be available by 2013. These apps will be accessible across multiple operating systems.

Perhaps more importantly, HTML5 apps will also free developers from the current economics of apps. With the current system, developers who want to make mobile apps available to a large audience have to go through one of the official app stores. All of these app stores charge a commission on each sales, diluting developers' revenues by as much as 30%. Once HTML5 apps become prevalent, developers will get to keep their revenue while also operating under a less restrictive marketplace. Factor in that more people than ever will have devices capable of using these apps, and it's practically a given that software companies are going to continue flocking towards apps.

Consumers will respond to this, too. With the advanced devices of today, more people than ever are willing to rely on apps for major components of their lives. Things such as graphic design or financial management that were once best left to a traditional computer will continue to move into the mobile space. With devices coming out that feature quad-core processors and 4G LTE speeds, apps will be more practical than ever. Between increased developer incentive to create apps and even stronger demand, it's clear that 2013 will be the year of the mobile app.

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