Are Apps a First World Problem?

Kevin Tofel wrote this about the app economy: “Did you download any apps to your smartphone this month? Chances are, you didn’t, says research firm ComScore. The company published a report showing that in the U.S., 65.5 percent of all smartphone owners aren’t adding any new apps to their phones these days.”

So if your advertising strategy is too focused on the app economy, you may be disappointed in your ROI for the next few years (although not eventually). Apps are a first world solution. A small minority of smart phone users download most of the apps. So if you are BMW, you may find your target audience in an app. If you’re a CPG company, you won’t get the scale you need.

Because we are global, we also serve the large percentage of the world that has smart phones but no money, tech knowledge, or credit cards.

Many people in the US do have IOS now, because iPhones are  free and are a status symbol, but they cannot download apps because they are either children whose parents have given them their phones as monitors, adults without credit cards, or people who are simply overwhelmed by all the apps in the app store. Many parents only have  Facebook and  a couple of kids games for to entertain the kids. Most working people don’t have time to get into Pinterest, or compare contact management apps like Humin. They stick with what they NEED.

And then there’s the part of the world that’s on Android, and wouldn’t know an app if they fell over one. These are the majority of smartphone users now and the ones who are predicted to come online in the next few years.They use phones for 1)banking 2)texting 3)Facebook or its equivalent in their own countries. Do you think someone who gets a smartphone for the first time in, say, Uganda, is going to gravitate immediately to Snapchat or Pinterest? Nope. These are first world apps.

In fact, most apps are first world apps.  Peter Diamandis’ optimistic book about the future, “Abundance,”  talks about the influence of technology on the developing world. He thinks it will be (at least at first) about things lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than photosharing: for example, 3-D printing to create products they need, AI and sensors to get better diagnoses by phone, and Labs on a chip. Yes, these will probably all come as apps, but they will be very different apps than we download every day. They will probably not use advertising as their business model. Imagine Foodspotting in the developing world. Potential users would just think it was a crazy way to spend time, when much of theirs is spent just  looking for clean water. But, as Diamandis points out, eventually all that will change.