The Top 3 Near-Term Growth Opportunities for Idled App Developers

By Andrej Kovačević
Published 09/10/2020
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The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has upended the tech industry in every part of the globe. It has delayed product launches, forced a sudden shift to all-remote workforces, and frozen complex supply chains. At the same time, though, it has also proven to be a golden opportunity for some members of the tech industry to grow their businesses and user bases.

The poster child for that opportunity is Zoom, who went from a niche business video conferencing provider to an indispensable necessity of daily life in mere days. But they’re hardly alone. Tech titans Amazon, Facebook, and Google have seen their coffers swelled by a surge in usage of their products and services, too.

The good news is that rank-and-file programmers and developers don’t have to sit idly by while they wait for things to get back to normal. That’s because the coronavirus pandemic is also fueling a resurgence in the app economy that’s breathing new life into the sector. All told, the first half of 2020 has seen a 23.4% year-over-year increase in consumer app spending. For those looking to take advantage of the boom, here are the top three app categories with solid near-term growth prospects.

Shopping and Consumer Goods

As millions of people around the world have sheltered in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, the demand for at-home delivery of consumer goods has exploded. While companies like Amazon and Walmart have eaten up a significant part of that new market share, there’s still plenty of room for smaller, more niche mobile apps to offer alternatives. For example, food delivery upstarts like ChowNow have posted solid growth as people look for ways to support local businesses without paying the exorbitant fees charged by UberEats and Grubhub. That points to a significant opportunity for developers to put together local shopping and consumer goods delivery apps that can unite homebound customers with local businesses who lack the manpower to handle the current demand for deliveries.

Mental Health and Relaxation

One of the secondary effects that the coronavirus is having right now is a pronounced uptick in anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. Without the easy ability to seek help through normal channels, countless people are left to struggle against these issues alone. And for many, the steady drumbeat of bad news and social media outrage they see on their smartphones is making the problem even worse. As a result, more and more people are turning to mental health and relaxation apps to try and learn to cope with their stress. In April, the top 20 apps in the category saw 4 million first-time downloads. That level of demand makes it the perfect time for developers to work on a relaxation or mindfulness app as a way to capitalize on the growth.

Media and Entertainment

Although it should go without saying, perhaps the biggest opportunity for app developers is in the media and entertainment category. To be more specific, mobile games are having one of their best quarters in recent memory. In the second half of March alone, there was a 24% increase in mobile gameplay, according to data from AdColony. And first-time installs jumped by 41% at the same time.

Much of the growth is coming from homebound people who previously didn’t spend much time on mobile games, which presents a rather unique opportunity for developers. Those that can design game app experiences that cater to casual non-gamers might be able to capture this unusual audience and retain their attention even after the Covid-19 crisis passes. And given that mobile advertising rates are paradoxically low right now despite the increase in app users, it should be possible to grow a loyal audience of players without massive spending to get it done. It’s a confluence of factors that’s never really happened before, and may never happen again.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Chance

These kinds of opportunities for growth in the app economy have no parallels in recent years. The maturity of the market had made it hard for independent app developers and programmers to even gain a foothold – a situation that showed no signs of changing. But as it has with every other aspect of modern life, Covid-19 has rewritten the rules and once again made it possible for anyone with a good idea and the right kind of technical skills to break into a growth sector of the app market.

It’s hard to say how long this will remain the case. It’s possible that improvements in the global situation surrounding Covid-19 could bring the app market back to its pre-pandemic state. But, given the number of new users this unprecedented situation has created, it’s the kind of chance that developers may never see again within their lifetime. So, it would be wise for anyone with the wherewithal to capitalize on the chance to get to work immediately – and to claim their slice of this unexpected tech sector windfall.