Mobile Apps Are Here to Stay

As we enter Q4 of 2023, the mobile app ecosystem finds itself in an interesting position. Recent data indicates that the number of apps people are installing on their smartphones on a yearly basis has been declining since peaking during the pandemic in 2020. In fact, 2022 saw the lowest number of installs per mobile user since 2017.

This decline in installs is likely driven by people simply spending less time on their phones as COVID restrictions have eased. During the height of lockdowns and shelter-in-place mandates, smartphone and app usage understandably skyrocketed out of boredom and lack of options for entertainment or social engagement.

Now as society has opened back up, people are getting out more, traveling, socializing in person, and generally spending less time idly consuming content on their devices. With hybrid and remote work also settling into patterns, the spike in app use driven by pandemic restrictions has stabilized. People likely already have the apps they need and are discovering fewer new ones.

At first glance, slowing install growth seems to paint a bleak picture for mobile app developers. However, taking a deeper look at the overall app landscape shows there are still many important benefits and good reasons for businesses to continue investing in mobile apps this year and beyond.

The Speed of Mobile App Development

First, it's important to understand how incredibly fast mobile app development has gotten in recent years thanks to cross-platform frameworks like React Native and Flutter as well as services like Expo.

Using React Native with Expo, I can build a production-ready app with smooth native performance for both iOS and Android and publish it to their respective app stores in a fraction of the time it used to take to build native apps. Expo handles all the complexities of app store submissions and certificates behind the scenes, so I can focus on development. I can go from idea to deployed app across iOS and Android in days or weeks in many cases versus the months it took previously. This speed of development is game-changing.

The User Experience Advantage

Even with improvements in mobile web and PWAs, I firmly believe that native mobile apps still deliver the smoothest, most polished, and most integrated experience on mobile devices. Native design and UX paradigms, silky 60fps animations, flawless gestures and scrolling, immersive full-screen use, tactile feedback, and leverage of device capabilities like camera and AR are all miles better in well-built native apps. Mobile web remains at an inherent experience disadvantage in my opinion.

Offline Access and Reliability

Native apps also work reliably offline by caching and saving data locally. This allows users to engage with apps in areas of low or no connectivity without disruption. Mobile web apps typically require a consistent internet connection to function which can be a non-starter for many users and use cases. The dependence on connectivity makes native apps more reliable and robust.

Advanced Notifications and Engagement

The notifications made possible in native mobile apps continue to have no parallel on the mobile web. Push notifications are pivotal for engagement, driving actions, administering surveys, and more. iOS 14 further expanded notification functionality with widgets. The upcoming push notification support for the web in iOS 16 will still pale in comparison to current native app capabilities. Notifications are a core competitive advantage.

Monetization Options

Mobile apps unlock more and better monetization options including paid downloads, in-app purchases, consumable purchases, and subscriptions. Mobile web is significantly more limited typically to just advertising and subscriptions. The breadth of monetization choice in apps is important for developers and businesses to understand. More options means more potential revenue streams.

Distribution and Discoverability via App Stores

The centralized and curated nature of app stores like the Apple App Store and Google Play Store also should not be overlooked. Having an app presence boosts brand visibility and discoverability in ways not possible on the open web. App store search and rankings confer authority. Being featured editorially is a huge win. This discoverability converts to direct business value.

In Summary

When considering all of the above factors - the speed of modern mobile app development, UX advantages, offline access, notifications, monetization options, and app store distribution - it's clear that native mobile apps still confer strong benefits and value in 2023 despite slowing install growth. The app development landscape has evolved to make apps easier to build and maintain than ever before. For many businesses, having a thoughtful native app strategy will continue to make sense for the foreseeable future.