By Robert Andrews
@robertandrewsJul 23, 2010 7:22 AM ET
A market assessment commissioned by the BBC Trust to help it decide whether the BBC should release smartphone apps came to a view many will find surprising: that the paid apps goldrush will be extinguished by the mobile web in a few short years.
According to the report from consultancy Mediatique…
“We conclude that the availability of content for free online, which is increasingly accessible via web browsers affording re-purposed content via mobile devices, will make it harder over time for content suppliers to charge for apps that provide access to content available online for free; the advantages of apps (bespoke mobile-purposed content, findability, novelty) will therefore reduce over time.
“Only 25% of apps on Apple’s App Store are free, but these generate 77% of usage. Not all analysts expect the market for apps to continue growing and see mobile web browsing as a more effective consumer proposition over the longer term.”
“The BBC would be entering a market that is already trending toward free apps (in news, sport and long-form video content) and is likely to trend further in that direction over time, irrespective of the BBC’s entry.”
No-one’s denying the trend toward free consumer content on the desktop web. It’s been possible to charge for mobile app versions, in my view, because they repackage that web content for the palm for the first time, and because there’s no pre-existing free-content culture on mobile.
Neither is anyone ignoring the likely improvements that will be made to mobile web apps in the coming years, especially on Android. But it’s stretching optimism a bit far for Mediatique to say that free content will prevail on mobile in the same way it has on the desktop.
Sure, many leading news publishers’ apps are already free, funded by some nascent ad sales or sponsorships. But, if you take Mediatique’s expectation as a rule, many app developers and publishers alike might as well pack up and go home – or else pray that someone’s working on a web apps store as commercially viable as iTunes Store is today