The death of the app economy has been greatly exaggerated

Declining app downloads doesn’t spell doom for tech companies—it’s a welcome sign of a maturing market

Teenager looking at a smartphone screen

(Mark Mawson/Getty)

The app boom is over, they’re saying.

That’s according to new stats from app tracking firm SensorTower, which found that total installs of the top 15 apps in the United States dropped 20 per cent year over year in May.

Some apps, such as Facebook and its adjunct Messenger, saw precipitous declines over that time, while only Snapchat and Uber had modest increases in total downloads.

The chart below tells the story:

Chart showing year-over-year app downloads for major app publishers


International download numbers were similar, with only Snapchat and Uber showing any significant growth.

This naturally means that apps are over, done and dead, right?

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way, which is probably more correct, is that most of the top online services are maturing. As ReCode puts it, it’s tougher for Facebook to attract more users after hitting a billion.

What the growth slowdowns likely indicate is a levelling off of most of the top apps in terms of users – or in other words, they’re finding their natural ceilings.

There has been till now an undercurrent of assumption that when it comes to online companies, especially social media, that they can keep growing indefinitely. What the numbers are starting to show is the opposite, that not everyone is going to be interested in all of them.

The two apps that did grow over the past year—Snapchat and Uber – seem to add further proof to this notion. Both are relative newcomers compared to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Netflix.

So, while it is difficult for publishers to get smartphone users to install their apps, it’s not impossible. They just have to relatively novel, and useful, of course.