Quarterly numbers from the comScore MobiLens service came out last month and, for the first time, smartphone penetration is over 50%. Think about that – there are now more people in the US who own a smartphone (119.3 million) than a much cheaper feature phone. From a content perspective, over half of them are downloading apps and browsing the web.
One of my responsibilities at the State is the development of mobile apps. When I share this with people a common reaction is, “That’s cool, but what for?” There’s a tone of skepticism that translates roughly to, “Why in the world would you use taxpayer dollars to build mobile apps that benefit such a small number of Colorado’s citizens.”
Part of the answer here is that the cost of building mobile apps has fallen dramatically as every vendor and enterprising developer in the world have gotten into the game. When the iPhone first came out in 2007, any real iOS app of moderate complexity was automatically a six-figure proposition – probably close to $200,000. A few years later, the consensus seemed to be about $75,000. Today, mobile development platforms (e.g., Appcelerator, Salesforce, Adobe PhoneGap, etc.) are helping to bring mobile apps to market even faster and with less dependency on highly skilled developers.
But I want to tackle the demand side of the equation, which seems to be growing as quickly as the cost side is shrinking.
- According to local data, there are approximately 4,280,000 people in Colorado age 13 and older – this is the same demographic measured in the comScore MobiLens service. Reasonable to assume then, that 51% or 2,183,000 own a smartphone. Even more encouraging, 69% of people who bought a mobile phone within the past 90 days paid the higher price to get a smartphone. Source: Nielsen
- Some point out that mobile apps would be a poor way to reach senior citizens. While it’s certainly true that smartphone ownership declines as age increases, the numbers are still significant – 22% of those age 65+ own a smartphone. Furthermore, ownership increases as income increases and income tends to increase with age – 38% of those age 65+ with income of $100K+ own a smartphone. Source: Nielsen
There are some groups where the case for mobile app development is still difficult to make, but that’s sort of beside the point. The point is that there are many cases where a mobile app could absolutely deliver value, and the opportunities are increasing – with people in low income households and retirees alike. The trick for the applications team at the State is simply to develop the right criteria for building mobile apps and hold ourselves accountable to those criteria.