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Has iPhone App Development Plateaued?

Pocketgamer.biz does something pretty clever: They’ve set up a program that regularly scrapes iTunes Store data in order to gather useful statistics. The statistics include the total number of apps in the apps store, the number of app submissions by month, the popularity of different categories (spoiler alert: games win this hands down), and the popularity of varying price points.When you look at how the total number of apps in the App Store has increased over time, you’ll quickly notice something odd starting at the beginning of this year (highlighted in light blue):

Looks really flat, doesn’t it? New app submissions aren’t coming in at nearly the rate they once were and this has caused the App Store to hit a ceiling.First though, is this data accurate? Apple reported in January that there were 2.2 million apps. This roughly matches Pocketgamer.biz’s estimate of 2,270,003. Statista has an estimate of the number (two months later) in March, 2017 again at 2,200,000. Again, pretty close to Pocketgamer.biz’s count of 2,303,423. Pocketgamer.biz’s estimates appear to be trustworthy -- Both alternate sources report numbers that come in within 5% of their estimates.

Less apps are being submitted

The drop-off in total app count is, not surprisingly, due to a steep decline in the number of app submissions per month since the beginning of the year:

The spike in October 2016 corresponds with the release of the iPhone 7. Likewise, the dip in September 2016 could be due to developers waiting for the 7 to hit the shelves so they could test on the new devices. The area highlighted in light blue covers the app submissions from Jan 2017 onwards. While 2016 saw an average of 2,500 apps submitted every day, this year has averaged less than 500 – that’s over an 80% decrease.Which begs the question: Why is this happening?

Declining iPhone revenue

Enthusiasm for iPhone app development may be mirroring the plateauing consumer enthusiasm for the device. Apple's iPhone revenue from 3rd quarter 2007 to 1st quarter 2017 (in million U.S. dollars) (source: Statista):

The red arrows indicate quarterly year-over-year change. Aside from mild gains in the holiday quarter, Apple’s quarterly revenues declined in 2016.

Stagnation in development

Since 2012 there has been a consistent decrease in interest in the latest iPhone models. This can be measured by public interest in Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Here we are gauging public interest via visits to the WWDC Wikipedia page:

as well as Google Trends:

WWDC is primarily intended for developers, however it highly promoted to the general public as it is often the stage where new models or features are announced. Therefore, this trend of decreased enthusiasm is probably more reflective of the stagnation of iPhone innovation than decreased interest in development. Case in point: I’ve been a lifelong fan of Apple products and I honestly could not tell you one feature that distinguishes the 7 from the 6.Is this an overall market trend or specific to iPhone? The number of apps on Google Play so far has a healthy positive trend for the year:

All in all, the iPhone has peaked. A lot of hope is riding on the 8 to reinvigorate the brand, but with rumors swirling of a prohibitive price point, it’s likely to remain a niche luxury item…. and this may continue to turn off developers.Plus, who wants to develop for a platform where you can’t even get your app preloaded? ;-)

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