What’s up with personal assistant apps?

Apple Siri loses a chunk of users, but it still possesses the biggest share of the AI-powered personal assistant apps market.

With the entry of new personal assistant apps, it’s only logical that there would be a shift in market share between the established players and the upstarts.

That trend is underscored in statistics recently published by Verto Analytics which are based on behavioral data gleaned from ~20,000 U.S. consumers via passive metering of their digital devices.

According to Verto, the current share of usage among the seven top personal assistant apps breaks down as follows:

  • Apple Siri: 41MM monthly U.S. users (~44%)
  • Samsung S Voice: 23MM (~25%)
  • Google Text-To-Search: 20MM (~21%)
  • Google Home: 5MM (~5%)
  • Amazon Alexa: 3MM (~3%)
  • Google Allo: 1MM (~1%)
  • Microsoft Cortana: 1MM (~1%)

These stats show the degree to which the top three apps continue to dominate the U.S. market. However, they don’t tell the entire story.  A more interesting trend is what’s happening with the number of monthly users by app. In the case of Siri, its monthly user figure has dropped a full 15% in the past year – or about 7 million monthly users lower than in 2016.

Samsung, #2 on the list, also experienced a decline in monthly users – in its case a drop of 8%, or about 2 million fewer users compared to 2016.

Google Home also experienced a slide in subscribers, although #3 ranged Google Text-To-Search did grow.

The biggest growth trends in personal assistant apps were experienced by Alexa (up ~325%) and Cortana (up ~350%). Both apps were starting from a very low baseline, however, and today they still number only around 3 million and 1 million monthly users respectively.

Another interesting dynamic is the level of engagement each of these personal assistant apps generates. As it turns out, there is a direct correlation between overall user growth and levels of engagement, so it’s pretty clear where most of the “go-go” action is at the moment:  Alexa and Cortana.

Perhaps most significantly, the Verto report suggests that personal assistant apps are of more utility to users than search apps such as Google or Yelp. Approximately 45% of smartphones owned by U.S. adults contained a personal assistant app that was used at least once during the month of May 2017.  Compare that to the percent of smartphones that had a search app installed over the same period:  just 34%.

It goes to show that among personal assistant apps broadly, the market is quite robust even if it’s fragmenting rather than consolidating.

What’s Up with Apps These Days?

Results from comScore’s latest annual U.S. Mobile App Report point to some interesting user behaviors.

No one needs to be reminded of how important mobile apps have become in today’s world of communications. Just looking around any crowd of people, it’s clear that usage has become well-nigh ubiquitous.

And now, we have some new stats that help quantify what’s happening, courtesy of the most recent annual Mobile App Report published by global media measurement and analytics firm comScore.

Among the salient findings from this report:

  • Today, mobile devices represent two of every three minutes spent on digital media.
  • Smartphone apps alone account for nearly half of all digital media time spent – and three of every four minutes spent while on mobile.
  • Over the past three years, total time spent on digital media has grown by over 50%. Most all of that growth has been because of mobile apps.
  • Indeed, time spent on desktop media has actually dropped by more than 10%.

Despite the rapid rise of mobile app usage, there are a few findings in the comScore report that point toward some consolidation of the market, with certain apps being the recipient of strong brand loyalties.

Typically, while smartphone users have uploaded many apps on their devices – and may use several dozens of them on a monthly basis – nine out of every ten mobile app minutes are spent with just five top apps.

[Good luck to any app provider attempting to break into that rarefied group of top performers!]

At the same time, “push notification fatigue” appears to be a growing issue: More smartphone users are rejecting app update notifications than ever before.  According to comScore’s recent report, nearly 40% of users rarely or never agree to such update notifications – up significantly from around 30% last year.

Conversely, only about 25% often or always agree to updates, which is down from about one-third of users in last year’s survey.

This last set of figures doesn’t surprise me in the least. With so many apps housed on so many devices, one could easily spend an hour each day accessing nothing but app updates.

Especially considering how little additional functionality these ongoing updates actually deliver, the whole operation falls into the “life’s too short” category.

The Ugly Other Side of Entrepreneurship

mA few years ago, I recall seeing a film made in India called Three Idiots. It’s a comedy about the college experience in India.  But there’s a serious undertone in that one of the issues dealt with in the movie is the pressure that many students feel about competing for precious few slots in top universities — as well as the pressure to excel once enrolled there.

In one scene, one of the students attempts suicide by jumping from a fourth floor dorm window.

The extreme pressures to succeed aren’t limited to India, of course. For years we’ve been reading articles about equally competitive environments in other countries like China.  Even the United States isn’t immune if one thinks about the elite private colleges and top public universities.

Unfortunately, the drive to succeed often follows students into the professional world in unhealthy ways. Several weeks ago, it was reported that a 33-year-old entrepreneur from Hyderabad, India named Lucky Gupta Agarwal took his own life after an app he had been developing failed to achieve the user acceptance and popularity he had anticipated.

The venture had started promisingly enough. After working for a number of years as a software engineer in a large Mumbai-based company, Mr. Agarwal developed a social networking app he named KQingdom that enables users to chat and photo-blog on the same app while earning rewards points for content created.

Mr. Agarwal believed that the features of his app were ones that were missing from Facebook and other social networking options.  He did many things right: He tested the app with fellow techies and social network users.  The app went through two years of development and alpha/beta testing to ensure that it worked smoothly.

When the app was listed on the Google Play store, it earned a 4.8 out of a possible 5.0 rating.

But Agarwal fell victim to over-rosy projections. He claimed to his family, friends and industry colleagues that the app would become more popular than WhatsApp.  He hired a staff of five to assist in the launch of the product.

As it turned out, after being launched in mid-2014 the app failed to garner the publicity or the engagement levels that Agarwal had anticipated. His financial situation deteriorated.  After having to lay off staff and downsize his operations, the entrepreneur sank into a depression that lasted for months before he ended his life several weeks ago.

In the wake of the news story, in the social commentary I’ve been reading on LinkedIn and elsewhere it seems that Mr. Agarwal’s situation isn’t an isolated one — even if the measures he ultimately took were unusually drastic. Clearly there are many, many other entrepreneurs who encounter a mismatch between their start-up expectations and the harsh reality.

Simply put, too many entrepreneurs don’t plan for failure even as they work for success. Even if a new product sufficiently fills a market need (whereas many of them fail for this fundamental reason), there’s still the challenge of implementing effective marketing and sales strategies, forging an efficient team of employees working together towards a common goal, and fending off nimble competitors who quickly react to new market moves with countermoves of their own.

And one other thing: Looking out from the safety of a job inside an established business, it’s very easy for a would-be entrepreneur to sense the shortcomings of staying in such an environment.  The siren call of becoming the head of one’s very own business is strong.

Unfortunately, many people are ill-prepared temperamentally to be entrepreneurs; it’s a big reason why so few ventures succeed. For every successful entrepreneur, there must be hundreds who fail — or whose efforts never even remotely achieve the level of success anticipated and hoped for.

Tragic incidents like the Agarwal news story remind us of the potentially tragic consequences.

Facebook reigns supreme among smartphone apps — at least in the United States.

faWhich was the most popular smartphone app in the United States during 2015? If you guessed Facebook, you’d be correct.

According to Nielsen estimates, the Facebook app notched more than 125 million average unique users per month during 2015. It was an ~8% increase in the app’s user volume over the previous year.

The second most popular smartphone app was YouTube, but at fewer than 100 million, its average unique user volume was substantially lower than Facebook’s.

The Nielsen estimates are calculated based on a monthly survey of 30,000+ mobile subscribers age 13 and older in the United States, as well as a panel of ~9,000 English-speaking adults (age 18+).

Here is Nielsen’s “Top Ten” chart for the most popular smartphone apps in 2015:

  • Facebook app: ~127 million average unique monthly users
  • YouTube: ~98 million
  • Facebook Messenger: ~96 million
  • Google Search: ~95 million
  • Google Play: ~90 million
  • Google Maps: ~88 million
  • Gmail: ~75 million
  • Instagram: ~56 million
  • Apple Music: ~55 million
  • Apple Maps: ~47 million

Within the top ten list, the two apps with the highest user growth in 2015 were Facebook Messenger, which charted an increase in average monthly users of ~31%, and Apple Music, with ~26% growth.

Also noted by Nielsen, the level of smartphone penetration ticked up yet again in 2015, so that today four out of five mobile subscribers are using a smartphone rather than a feature phone.

fa anAs for the ongoing competition between Apple and Android for smartphone hegemony, it remains a real donnybrook but with Android ahead.

As of Q3 2015, Android devices represented ~52.5% of the subscriber base whereas ~42.5% of Americans used Apple iOS devices to access their apps.  (The remainder is made up of Blackberry users and phones operating on Windows.)

Additional information about the Nielsen evaluation and analysis can be viewed here.  It will be interesting to see how these trends might change in 2016.  Would anyone care to make any predictions?

The “App Gap”: Mobile Apps Overtake All Others in Digital Media Consumption

Mobile apps overtaking other digital media consumptionIt was bound to happen.

The bulk of time Americans are spending on digital media … is now happening on mobile applications.

According to data released this past week by Internet and digital analytics firm comScore, the combined time that people expend using digital media breaks down as follows:

  • Mobile apps: ~52% of all time spent online
  • Mobile web surfing: ~8%
  • Desktop: ~40%

Apps are clearly in the driver’s seat – particularly in the mobile realm.  In fact, comScore estimates that apps account for 7 out of every 8 minutes spent on mobile devices.

On smartphones, the app usage is ~88% of all time spent, whereas on tablets, it’s ~82%.

This doesn’t mean that app usage is spread evenly throughout the population of people who are online.  Far from it.  Only about one-third of people download one app per month or more.  (The average smartphone user is downloading about three apps per month.)

The inevitable conclusion:  App usage is highly concentrated among a subset of the population.

Indeed, the 7% most active smartphone owners account for almost half of all the download activity during any given month.

But even if most users aren’t downloading all that many apps … they are certainly engaged with the ones they do have on their devices:  comScore reports that nearly 60% are using apps every day.

Here again, the data show that usage levels are much higher among smartphone users than they are with tablet users (where only about one quarter of the people use apps daily).

Where they’re spending their time is also interesting.  Well over 40% of all app time spent on smartphones is with a user’s single most used app.  (Facebook takes top honors — of course.)

And if you combine social networking, games and Internet radio, you’ve pretty much covered the waterfront when it comes to app usage.

When you think about it, none of this should come as much surprise.  We’re a mobile society – hourly, daily, monthly and yearly.  It only makes sense that most online time is going to be happening when people are away from their home or their desk, now that it’s so easy to be connected so easily from even the tiniest mobile devices.

And speaking of “easy” … is it really any wonder why people would flock to apps?  It’s less hassle to open up an app for news or information rather than searching individual sites via mobile.  People simply don’t have the patience for that anymore.

Marketing Fail? Too Many Mobile Apps are Deleted within Days of Downloading

Mobile appsHere’s an interesting statistic offered up by marketing consultant Rich MeyerThree-fourths of mobile apps are deleted within three weeks of being downloaded by their users.

How can the attrition rate be so high?

According to Meyer, it’s because people decide they don’t really have a need for the apps … or they find them too difficult to use and master.

I suspect the percentage may also be so high because marketers fail to query their target audiences prior to developing apps to determine now much of a need it will be satisfying.

… Or to put it another way, to avoid falling into the trap of developing a cure for something that isn’t a disease.

Mobile App Preferences
Sources: MarketingProfs; Harris Interactive and EffectiveUI field survey, 2010.

Meyer believes part of the dynamic at work is a knee-jerk “bias for action” as the marketing playing field shifts endlessly.

“It’s called ‘do it’ because everyone else is doing it, and it results in not only bad marketing, but in turned off consumers and customers,” he maintains.

Questions as simple as “What would you like to see in a mobile app?” … or testing an app concept with a sample of potential users before spending the effort and energy to produce it would be good places to start.

Marketers can use the research findings to adjust the proposed design of an app — or to trash it altogether and come up with an alternative one that actually meets a need.

If more companies did this, perhaps the 75% deletion rate for mobile apps would cease to be so flat-out dismal.

Apps come of age. (Translation: Average app revenues are cratering.)

Smartphone app developmentWell, it was nice while it lasted.

App developers have had a pretty lucrative playing field over the past several years. But like so much else in cyberspace where there’s a “drive to the bottom,” paid apps are no longer the path to guaranteed revenue riches they might have been once.

According to mobile market research firm Research-2-Guidance, total paid app revenues continued to grow in 2012 – and by a healthy rate of 27% — to reach $8 billion.

But at the same time, the average revenue generated per paid app fell at the very same 27% rate.

As a result, the average revenue generated per paid app declined from ~$26,700 in 2011 to just ~$19,500 in 2012.

Research-2-Guidance posits that the decline in average sales per paid app could ultimately lead to a situation where developing paid apps is no longer a profitable endeavor.

“There are now so many applications available that supply even exceeds demand,” company spokesperson Vincenzo Serricchio noted in a summary statement.

In line with the notion that “everything in cyberspace wants to be free,” information technology research and advisory firm Gartner projects that by 2016, nearly 95% of app storefront downloads will be free rather than paid apps.

And even among the paid apps, the Gartner analysis estimates that nine out of ten of these app downloads will be priced at $3 or lower.

Yet another forecast – this one by Strategy Analytics – predicts that the average price for all phone apps (free and paid combined) will drop to just 8 cents per app by 2017.

Most major brands don’t really care about pushing paid versus free apps, as they typically use them for boosting branding exposure and engagement rather than for revenue generation per se. However, with so many quality free app options being offered, the question is how many app developers – particularly those in the gaming field – ultimately will find the new landscape unprofitable or otherwise unpalatable.

Stay tuned.