iPhone rumors are an integral part of the hype engine surrounding new product launches, but Apple noted during its most recent conference call that they hurt device sales for the quarter. Now a new report says those rumors may have been responsible for a recent slowdown in app downloads, too.
Anticipation of a new iPhone is probably the best way to account for the negative effect rumors had on iPhone hardware sales at the end of this past summer. As reports streamed in of an imminent refresh, and starting gaining more vocal support after the time frame for Apple’s usual iPhone refresh announcement in June passed, some consumers hit the pause button on their purchase instincts. After all, why buy an aging device when a new (and likely better) one is just around the corner?
A new report from Fiksu, a tool to help developers grow their user base, says that app downloads as measured across the top 200 free apps in the U.S. were similarly depressed during September and August, which caused marketing dollars to not go quite as far in terms of leading to loyal user acquisitions. Fiksu CEO Micah Adler told AdWeek that the drop in downloads was due to customers waiting for a new iPhone, just like the drop in hardware sales.
It’s an interesting theory, but one which also rings a bit false — unlike the iPhone itself, apps are easily transferable between devices. That has always been the case, but with iOS 5, they’re even easier to move around thanks to the past purchases feature. The promise of a new device might slow the app download pace of a small percentage of users who aren’t aware that you can take your software with you when you upgrade, but could it really be enough to account for download decline two or more months in a row?
Instead, I suggest that declining app downloads may be more attributable to two other possible culprits: a slowdown of fresh, innovative content and/or marquee titles; and a user base growing more resistant to what has been a brand new form of product. In the first case, based on daily browsing of the top charts, it just seems like familiar faces rule the roost; electric, unexpected titles are fewer and farther between (the last big one I can remember being really excited about was Superbrothers’ Sword & Sworcery EP) In the second, the mobile app is now a much more well-known quantity for a much wider group of buyers. More than three years since the iOS App Store opened, it’s possible that customers aren’t nearly as likely to be buying apps without much discretion just because they can.
Of course, I still think it’s likely that new devices lead customers to new software purchases, even if my two counterpoints are true, so like Fiksu, I expect App Store downloads to see a rebound in the coming months. But as to whether iPhone rumors are the culprit behind download slowdown to begin with, I’m not so sure.