What is the half-life of your App?

An immediate result of the rapid rollout of LLM tools like ChatGPT, ChatGPT-4 and Bard is that application development has accelerated. Acceleration leads to faster execution and, just as significantly, it leads to lower-cost execution. Anyone with an idea for an app can generate an app. Anyone with an idea for an app but with no money can also generate an app. Furthermore, you don’t need to know how to code. There’s a marketing arms race for attention and we are already at DefCon No-Code. But this is a problem for app half lives. What is the half life of your app going to be?

Against this backdrop, app churn is going to go exponential. It’s too easy to create newer, better, faster, cheaper, shinier apps in an already crowded space and it’s getting harder to build moats: factors that protect you from competitors. The half-life of new app-based businesses is dropping, fast. ChatGPT and Bard have accelerated this trend.

If anyone can create an app then apps themselves, which are already fighting for attention-space in the app stores, are going to be impossible to defend from a marketing point of view unless they are supported by either extraordinary, existing brand power or by existing channels to market. Preferably both.

What this means for developers is that, even if you create an app that is outstanding in a given niche, it will be days or less before a competitor app does the same thing albeit with a little more magic dust sprinkled on it in terms of features. And there’s an app to spot new apps.

Two unstoppable forces are at play. The cost of app dev has plummeted. It’s effectively zero now and as apps are used to develop apps and apps develop apps that are themselves used to develop apps etc. there are parallels with the AI singularity. As a result, the number of functional apps vying for consumer attention is rocketing. But there is still a relatively fixed number of human attention minutes (HAMs) available. Consequence: an almost impossible to win, Pareto distribution, free-for-all fight. The cost of consumer attention, defined as the number of apps needed to get a single HAM is subject to almost Zimbabwean inflation.

Apps will need sophisticated, clever, fast-learning and intelligent marketing algorithms to get any significant attention at all. But there will be an app for that too, available to other apps. So developers are already in an attention-seeking arms race.

The second force is that app stores, already impossible to navigate easily, are crowded spaces and most apps, even excellent ones, are being crushed by sheer weight of competitor numbers.

With the cost of app development plummeting, app stuffing will be a growing problem. App stuffing, like keyword stuffing, is a brute-force method of gaining HAMs by developing large numbers of apps that operate in the same functional area. A consumer searching for a dieting app is already overwhelmed with options – I counted well over 100 diet apps before I got bored of counting – and if your 50 apps appear alongside 20 others from different developers, you stand the greatest chance of a download. App store curation does help of course but algorithms are busily analysing these too in order to game them.

A measure of how this is going is the half-life of an app as defined by the average number of days that pass before usage drops by 50%. There are, of course, many apps that never get used at all whilst others seem to dominate the market although they too are subject to decay.

So how to deal with this as an app marketer? You need to establish and build a brand. Successful companies know this and invest $millions in brand awareness etc. For individual developers, one method is to build a personal brand on Twitter.

If you are an individual and need to know how to do this, just ask ChatGPT. It’s a crowded space already.

Key concepts: App stuffing, App half life.