It goes without saying that mobile apps are huge business. In 2019, American cellphone users spent 90% of their online time using cell phone apps rather than surfing the web through a browser. In Q1 of 2021, those users were spending 4.2 hours per day using mobile apps, almost equalling the 4.5 hours they spent watching any sort of TV, whether that be live or streamed. As the pandemic has increased all of our screen times, global app revenues are predicted to rise from $365bn in 2018 to $808bn by the end of 2022. To get a share of that money, developers will look to further innovate and captivate in four key areas.
We’ve seen interesting, if somewhat singular AR projects thus far – take the Lego x Snapchat x Kabooki streetwear pop-up in London in 2019, for instance. The store itself was bare, however by looking around with a Snapchat AR lens, patrons could view and order the fashion collections being virtually displayed. The benefits going forward are obvious – as rents in prestige shopping districts continue to climb, AR can allow retailers to do more with less space and niche companies will be able to afford presences in cutting edge neighborhoods like Miami’s Design District. However, they may not be a game changer for a general populace increasingly shopping online. What might happen is Google could look to introduce AR to Google Maps where you can view your surroundings through your cell phone camera and be given live on-screen directions – think live action Waze for pedestrians. Currently it’s available in a few malls in select US cities, including Chicago, LA and Seattle, and doubtless there’s a lot more work to be done by their roving camera cars to upscale it, but the potential to never get lost again will be worth billions.
Increased Screen Real Estate
With foldable screens on the horizon, and the return of the flip phone as double screened devices, cellphone screens can get much more efficient with their size. We remember the rise of the ‘phablets’ – phones almost the size of a tablet – and while they may have been great for being able to view graphs in detail, or livestream sports more dynamically, they were fairly awful at fitting in pants pockets. It’s not difficult to see that developers will start taking advantage of rediscovered space and start optimizing for that. If we take mobile gaming as an example, many online poker players cite one of their favorite ways to play poker with friends is through platforms such as through Zynga or Global Poker’s app, as they give players the ability to play several tables at once. Now, typically, that has to be done on a computer as the space on a phone screen to do so efficiently isn’t there. The new breed of flip phones could make the phone the definitive way to play online poker – one table on your left screen, one table on your right. Or two stacked up on each screen for the truly dedicated poker player. Or four stacked up on each screen if someone launches a flip phablet. Who knows?
With the worldwide chip shortage leading to end users facing long lines and premium prices in order to purchase the top consoles and PC graphics cards, expect to see more AAA titles being ported to mobile. We’ve seen this previously where older, less tech-demanding games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have appeared in full versions, but the game changer this year has been Genshin Impact which has generated circa $2bn on the mobile version alone. This week, it’s been announced that the game will have a 120fps mode on iOS, putting its PC and PlayStation 4 versions to shame. While casual games rule the roost currently, they typically retail for fairly low amounts and financial success relies on overwhelming volume. Developers will have had their ears pricked up that blockbusting content delivers blockbusting returns.
By now we’re all familiar with Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Doordash and the likes. Across the course of the pandemic, demand for delivery apps has skyrocketed, and with many people now re-evaluating their work-life balance and considering if they want to return to the office, new labor could be in abundant supply also. 7-Eleven has upscaled their 7NOW delivery app to include ‘pins’ – popular outdoor locations they’ll deliver to such as beaches and playgrounds across over 200 US cities. Silicon Valley won’t stop producing startups with the latest killer app, but the main question is if they go it alone or get bought over by the big boys? The unfolding of whether the market re-diversifies or continues to be centralized will be a key narrative of 2022 and beyond.