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What’s next for the app economy?

You’ll soon be recruited as a monster catcher. Your mission? To explore the world’s crevices and retrieve over 100 miniature fantasy creatures.

It’s a sign of the modern world we live in, completely immersed in apps. In this instance, through the new Pokémon Go app game – which is spreading digital fever all over the world.

In the space of a week, and despite only being available in a handful of countries, Pokémon Go is a glimpse into how digital technology can completely change interactions and environments with brands.

For those who haven’t yet tested their hand at hunting Pikachu, the app turns your camera and GPS into a Quasar-like game for real life. It transforms nearby landmarks into Pokémon Gyms (yes, you need to train those little guys to be the hardest furry things on the block!) and 'PokéStops' (where players can restock on artillery, naturally). If you’re a small business owner, we suggest grabbing the app straight away. There’s a strong chance you could be one of the Pokéstops. If so, get ready for an influx of phone-wielding visitors. If not, get your credit card ready – as these pit stops will soon become Pokémon’s most sought after revenue stream.

The new breed of app

The app is the first in a new breed of mobile apps using virtual and augmented reality. Since launching, it has reportedly made $1 million (£0.7m) a day, adding around $7.5 billion (£5bn) of value to Nintendo so far.

When an app gets this good, it grows not just its own culture, but a cult-like following. Like Snapchat, it is the perfect breeding ground for businesses with big budgets to be seen by new potential customers. In terms of functionality, apps are now the difference between customers remembering a brand experience and customers feeling totally unsupported by one.

Apps offer greater flexibility for customers who wish to browse anytime and across multiple channels. They can now extend people's experience of real-life surroundings, with virtual reality creating simulated environments for them to hang out in. In the future, instead of travelling to attend out of town meetings, avatars will be used instead. And instead of needing to type, apps will help businesses convert handwritten notes into type or render complex mathematical expressions, even sign contracts. But we’re still only at the beginning.

One day, every business will have an app. Experts already predict that health-tracking apps will soon allow us to constantly monitor our health, enabling an 'always-on' broadcast of our daily lives. Google already has plans to launch a contact lens that lets wearers monitor their blood glucose levels through communication with a mobile-based app.

Apps don’t even have to be this advanced to be successful. The smallest businesses can develop apps that get them in front of new faces, and make their current clients happier. Here are just some of the benefits for having one:

  • Since 2015, the app economy has been bigger than that of Hollywood. It's estimated that by 2020 the app industry will be worth $101 billion (£70bn), doubling its current size. Games in particular are fuelling the industry with 85 per cent of the revenue generated in 2015 coming from this sector. In the next few years it is predicted that other categories will grow faster than games, such as banking, retail, airlines, ridesharing services, and government agencies.
  • The global Android and iOS smartphone markets are forecast to grow by 7.9 per cent collectively over the next 4-5 years, and the number of app downloads is projected to double in the next 2-3 years, from c.100m to c.268m in 2017.
  • 90 per cent of consumer’s mobile time is now spent in apps compared with only 10 per cent of time in a browser.
  • Flexibility for customers: It’s not a case of mobile web versus app, but being able to offer customers the flexibility they are accustomed to in their day-to-day activities.
  • Ability to leverage native features, for example geo-location, offline browsing, touch ID, and quick access (where log-in only requires the app to be open).
  • Apps are now helping people through their customer experience. For example, pharmacy store Boots launched its app to enable store staff to better assist customers and provoke bricks-and-mortar sales. Using analytics, it monitors product availability and reviews, enhancing the person-to-person service.

Apps have already altered the way we spend our free time, the way we work, and the way we take care of ourselves. But in the next few years, our reliance on them is only set to increase. With the likes of Pokémon Go extending the lifecycle of app experiences, businesses of all sizes must focus on building digital products that leverage smartphone technology. Whether offering a faster, seamless and integrated browsing, planning and booking of experiences, or simply meeting the diverse needs of your existing and prospective customers in key markets, it is an essential step towards the future of customer experience.

Kevin Gill, CEO of Start

Image source: Zanariah Salam /