Christmas app downloads set record; but growth slows

People are getting used to their phones, and mobile growth is coming in non-Christian countries

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
December 30, 2013
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I graduated from college in 2008, and that seems like a completely different era when it comes to cell phones. When I first got there, I had a T-Mobile brick; the kind that you had to remember to lock or else you'd inevitably butt-dial someone. No one had a camera on their phone, and certainly no one was downloading any apps yet.

We've come really, really far in just a short amount of time. We're getting more used to the world of smartphones and apps, and that it starting to take its toll on downloads.

Apps typically spike around Christmas, and this year was no exception, with another record-breaking number of app downloads, according to data out from mobile analytics company Flurry.

Growth was down signficantly, though.

Overall app downloads rose 11% on Christmas Day 2013, compared to the same day in 2012. And there was a 25% increase in app downloads on an average December day, compared to a year ago. Compare that to last year's numbers, which saw 97% year-to-year growth and a 90% increase in average December downloads, and you can see that something has changed.

Even the spike in app downloads on Christmas, while still impressive, did not reach the same heights as previous years. They went up 91% in 2013 during the first three weeks in December, while they more than doubled the last two years.

The categories that saw the biggest spikes this year were hames and social apps, which were downloaded on Christmas at twice the rate they were on a typical December day. Media, such as photo, video and music app, as well as lifestyle, including sports, books, magazines and entertainment, also saw big gains.

Why the slow down

So what exactly is causing this slowdown? Normalization is beginning to set in, according to Flurry.

Smartphones have been on the market since 2007, and that means fewer and fewer people in mature markets are getting their first phones. Basically, they are now used to them and there is no incentive for them to download any apps specifically on Christmas. 

"Consumers who are on second, third or fourth devices have apps that they like and trust, and while they still download new apps, there isn’t much more impetus to do so on Christmas than any other day when they have a little downtime," Flurry said.

Combine that with the fact that mobile is seeing higher growth rates in developing countries, especially in places that do not celebrate Christmas, and you can see why Christmas Day downloads have started taking a big hit.

"The biggest growth in mobile now is coming in countries where Christmas is a less significant holiday or not celebrated at all, so new device activations and app downloads come at different times of the year in those places," said Flurry."

"And because those high-growth areas are joining an already large global market, overall growth rates are less striking than when the mobile market was new."

A brief history of apps

The first iPhone came out in 2007, and apps first started to gain traction in 2008, with the launch of the App Store, coinciding with the release of the iPhone 3G, in June of that year. The store opened with 500 free apps.

Apps were instantly popular; by September, more than 3,000 apps were available and 100 million had been downloaded from the App Store.

With that kind of success, it was obvious that Google would not be far behind. Apple's biggest rival got into the game soon after, launching what was then known as the Android Market, in October of 2008. It was renamed Google Play in March of 2012. 

Both the App Store and Google Play both hit the 50 billion download mark in 2013.

The largest app growth came between 2009 and 2011, when apps were relatively new and people were getting their first smartphones. 

In 2009, app downloads were roughly 2.3 billion. By 2010, that number reached 9 billion globally, quadrupuling in a single year. Then it tripled the next year, reaching 30 billion global downloads in 2011.

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