I hate mobile apps. I can be quite a progressive person at times, but I am also quite a stick in the mud on many things. The main thing being the creation and selling of mobile apps. Sure, the mobile market has outpaced desktop usage and the mobile market is a massive thing we should all be a part of, but is it really a nice thing for everyone to make money off?
I hate apps in a lot of different ways. I hate the fact that some apps are dumped on a brand new phone, like the Twitter and Facebook apps. I hate the fact that some apps are un-uninstall-able because of vendors with their own alterations of the Android operating system. I hate iOS in general and find the interface weird and bulky. I hate apps with their errant push notifications, and some apps resetting themselves after updates. I hate the fact that apps are regarded as the best thing in the universe when really they’re just small programs made for phone operating systems than desktop operating systems.
But most importantly of all, I hate how developing apps is deemed the best way to make tons of money and get rich and famous, so everyone should be doing it.
Why? Well, unless you get insanely lucky or manage to latch onto people’s interests, you’ve got to compete with over two and a half million other apps on the Google Play Store alone. In February alone, over 30,000 apps were added to the Google Play Store, not including shitty, low quality apps uploaded for laughs or scams or whatever. Does this include people uploading new versions of their apps? I don’t know. But that is a fucking huge number of apps in just one place.
Either way, that’s a huge amount of competition. You really need to make yourself stand out from the crowd if you want to make a successful app. Assuming that it even gets downloaded in the first place, since, in 2016, nearly half of all US smart phone users didn’t download any apps per month. And that’s assuming that anyone even sees your app, since most people only ever look at the top few pages of apps, the same way most people only ever look at the first page of Google results.
That’s just talking about downloads. The thing is, the pool of apps actually being used is very small too.
I realised a while back that I only ever use a handful of apps. My alarm app, my calendar app, a web browser, an email app, a music app plus a few more, like Pokemon Go, Steam and Discord. I very rarely use more than my small circle of apps. TechCrunch back in 2017 looked at several reports and put this at about 9-10 apps per day and 30 apps a month, which suggests that my app usage is about average. But it’s worth noting just how many of these apps are pre-installed apps like Facebook or Twitter. Or Youtube or Chrome.
Phone storage space is also at a premium, meaning that people will delete apps they no longer use.
So not only are you competing with the millions of other apps out there, it’s possible you’re not even going to have your app looked at. The top most-downloaded apps are mostly owned by Google or Facebook, or get bought out by them later on. On the flip side, I have no idea how many apps are never downloaded, but this old 2013 article suggests that half of all apps don’t even get downloaded once. With apps being (supposedly) easier to make these days, I wonder if that amount has increased or decreased?
Basically, what I am trying to say is that there IS a big pie out there, but you are fighting for a tiny, minuscule slice of it while massive corporations gobble most of it up.
Actually making an app on its own though? That’s a whole different story. I’ll be blunt here, I’m writing this article because I’m doing an Open University course on web, mobile and the cloud and the mobile section has been a pile of trash so far. Between course materials being delayed significantly and all sorts of weird bugs, it’s just not been fun. The first two parts of the course were fine (and I actually got high marks in the assessments for a change) but the mobile app part has been slow and not at all fun.
So far, all I’ve managed to do is set up Node.JS, Cordova and the Android SDKs. The course is based on ‘hybrid apps’, apps built with HTML5, AJAX and company and then wrapped up in an Android skin by Cordova and various other tools. It’s taken me fucking hours to get these basics sorted though. Because I’ve had to install everything via cmd for some insane reason.
My point is, just getting started with app building is fucking hard work. There are lots of tools out there to help with app building, there are lots of people willing to sell you frameworks and systems to help you build and analyze apps and there are lots of people selling app creators that will do the hard work for you. But it’s still a huge amount of work finding what’s best for you.
Of course everyone wants to be behind the next big app. But in reality, it’s just not happening. The only reliable way to get to the top and stay at the top is to already be at the top, in the hands of Google, Facebook or Apple.
To me, making a living off of making apps seems like a non-starter, because most people will just stick to the same handful of apps, all owned by massive corporations. Sure, there is a massive market out there, but the majority of us are just fighting for scraps…