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Summary:

Mobile backend provider Kinvey found 73 percent of iOS and Android apps are basically static and don’t connect to a backend. IOS apps fare better with 35 percent of apps connecting to cloud backends while 18 percent of Android apps connect to these services.

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We’ve talked about the rise of mobile app development services, particularly providers of mobile backend infrastructure like StackMob, Parse, Kinvey, Zipline Games and others. But how big is the opportunity they’re addressing?

Well, Kinvey did some digging into iOS and Android apps and found that together, 73 percent of these mobile apps are basically static and don’t connect to a backend. IOS apps fare better with 35 percent of apps connecting to cloud backends while 18 percent of Android apps connect to these services. Kinvey took a statistically representative sample of more than 2,000 apps in both the Apple App Store and Android Market and manually looked for services like data syncing, social network integration, location management and other features.

The research is self-serving, but it helps shed some light on why some apps are more engaging and appealing than others and what opportunities there are for apps to become more dynamic. That’s an increasingly important goal for developers, which are fighting to get noticed in a sea of apps and need to find ways to make money, especially as users continue to prefer free apps. That has put an emphasis on engaging users over longer periods of time, not just getting simple downloads. Localytics, an app analytics firm, reported earlier this year that one-quarter of apps are only opened one time.

I talked with Ryan Light, creative and marketing director at Kinvey, about the numbers and implications of this research. He said iOS apps are more often connected to backends because the App Store has been around longer, and developers have been working on the platform longer. He said Kinvey’s research has found that apps that connect to backends receive higher rankings and more downloads, because they’re likely dynamic with more fresh content and are more social and contextual. For example, apps that can connect to cloud data are more timely, while other apps are more useful because they include social sharing, location information or push notifications.

“The rankings of apps and how many downloads they get definitely show that developers who invest in this see some return. From the users we’ve talked to, people get bored with an app that doesn’t change. It’s more engaging to tweet something out or use an app that grabs new data and is always fresh.”

Light said developers who don’t connect to backend services are split into two camps. Some just don’t have the capabilities to build more than a simple front end for their apps. And others are capable but don’t have the time or money to do it or aren’t convinced the effort is worth it. Light said it’s understandable. He said he first got into the backend business with Kinvey when he was asked by a developer to build out some infrastructure for a mobile app, which ended up costing $7,000 and taking up two weeks’ time. That realization helped launched Kinvey, which, like its other rivals, is trying to solve the backend part of the equation for app developers.

Again, the data is a helpful selling point for backend providers. But I do think that it’s good to understand the current situation and the options that are available to developers. The name of the game in apps is engagement, something we discussed this week at our GigaOM Mobilize conference. If you can’t hold on to your users, it’s easy for them to abandon your app and then there’s no way to monetize them. We’re seeing a big spike in the number of freemium apps and in-app purchase revenue, but it’s all dependent on ongoing usage. Most big-time app developers understand this, but for the apps that still don’t have some dynamic backend connections, it’s a good reminder to look at that as an option to increase their competitiveness.

As Kinvey and a host of other providers are more than willing to tell them, developers don’t have to build this stuff themselves. It costs money, but it may be worth it, especially as apps that are more dynamic becomes the new expectation of app users.

  1. Great article. I’m a Co-Founder at Appboy and we’re hearing these exact problems from a lot of the developers we talk to. A lot of people are fighting hard to get downloads, but once they get them the only value they realize is the download number ticking up. Developers need better ways to engage and understand their user base.

    We’re trying to solve some of these issues with our SDK. If you’re interested, check out our website at http://www.appboy.com/ .

  2. Interesting numbers. I think it’s definitely much simpler to build just a UI app, without connecting to any back end. In Tiggr Mobile App Builder (http://gotiggr.com), we make it very easy to build the app UI with jQuery Mobile but also very easy connect to thousands of REST API services available today on the Internet, everything from Twitter, to NY Times, to San Francisco parking information.

  3. Perhaps not a big surprise. Building an app is one thing, but building an dynamic app with a full fledged web / Internet service (network programming) is another. This separates the adults from the children!

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