The only way developers can take on the 'peak app' argument

Shane Schick

I have an idea for a mobile game: Consumers get bombarded with statistics after statistics, which they have to quickly assess and press a button when they think they've seen something that will prove the app stores are now crowded beyond all sanity. The game would be called "Peak App."

As we get closer to the end of the year, 2014 will definitely stand out as the moment when the proliferation of choices for smartphone users came to be seen as more of a curse than a blessing. In the summer, Read/Write saw the beginnings of "peak app" in some depressing ComScore data. More recently, the Globe and Mail newspaper hosted a discussion about peak app's emergence with a panel of mobile experts. The BBC saw peak app as an explanation for mobile security problems. Then there are the occasional mentions on social media, like this one: 

The best argument, however, without even really using the term peak app, came a few weeks ago from Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Exchange, who vented his frustration on his blog. The post, titled "App-pocalypse Now," isn't necessarily full of original thoughts, but it captures what I suspect a lot of consumers have collectively been thinking over the last number of months. An essential graph: 

Your platform now has a million apps? Amazing! Wonderful! What they don't tell you is that 99% of them are awful junk that nobody would ever want. Let's start with the basics. How do you know which apps you need? How do you get them installed? How do you keep them updated? How many apps can you reasonably keep track of on a phone? On a tablet? Just the home screen? A few screens? A dozen screens? When you have millions of apps out there, this rapidly becomes less of a "slap a few icons on the page" problem and more of a search problem like the greater web. My son's iPad has more than 10 pages of apps now, we don't even bother with the pretense of scrolling through pages of icons, we just go straight to search every time.

Forget mobile ads, in-app purchase lures, push notifications or even paying for installs. What I think Atwood and others are suggesting is that some kind of radical reaction is almost inevitable. People aren't going to throw away their smartphones, but app stores may start to do even more to isolate only the best-performing apps for consideration in featured categories. Submission processes may even get more convoluted than they are now. 

There's not a lot developers can contribute to the "peak app" discussion, besides giving up on making new apps, or only releasing those that they are sure can find a real audience. I'd suggest reading Atwood's post in its entirety. If you can win over someone like this, you may be able to prove the peak is still a little higher than the rest of the world thinks.--Shane

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