Indie app developers are getting squeezed

The market research firm ComScore reported this week that mobile now accounts for the majority of time U.S. consumers spend soaking up digital media. We’re spending 52 percent of our digital media time absorbed in mobile apps, according to the report, and another 8 percent browsing the mobile web. PC-based digital media accounts for only 40 percent of our consumption.

But as GigaOm’s Kevin Tofel (among others) points out, ComScore’s report includes some seemingly contradictory data regarding our mobile app usage. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. smartphone owners don’t download any new apps in a typical month, and a mere 7 percent of users account for nearly half of all downloads in a given month. So while a few hardcore users are driving the market for new, less-familiar apps, most of us are content using the familiar titles we’ve come to depend on.

There are a few likely reasons for the app fatigue many users seem to be feeling: Finding valuable new apps in the massive warehouses that are Google Play and Apple’s App Store is laborious, time-consuming, and often futile. Also, the ever-increasing number of apps that run in the background often drain the phone’s battery very quickly. And for many users the novelty of experimenting with new mobile apps is wearing thin.

Regardless, these trends present a serious problem for smaller developers looking to get noticed in the big app stores — particularly if those developers are trying to muscle their way into the crowded field of games, social media and other entertainment genres. Unknown developers still have a chance to catch lightning in a bottle (as Flappy Bird proved), but it has become extremely difficult to attract the attention of users who are already busy using their phones to check Facebook, play music through Pandora and fling Angry Birds. Savvy developers should consider either joining one of the many established players in the mobile entertainment market or consider more promising markets like productivity and enterprise apps.