If you’ve been stuck on Mars for the last decade and have recently returned to our atmosphere you may not have heard of an app store. For those ex-martians an app store is a central marketing place for brands and developers to share and sell software. In this article, we will focus on Apple’s App Store but the sentiments apply to all mobile native app stores.

Historically the App Store has been a place of trust and consistency for consumers to go to and shop for software or as we now like to call it and a term coined by Apple themselves “apps”. However, as brand loyalty increases trust between brand and customer and technological advancements in the web continue. Does the App Store have a place in our future?

The Cons

The App Store has become the gatekeeper for mobile software. Which means it can also be the central point of failure. I’m not talking about the idea the App Store will crash or pack up shop. I mean in terms of censorship or financial roadblocks. In ~2019 the App Store decide they would be taking 30% of all subscription payments. This was the final straw that saw Spotify go to war with Apple and file an antitrust complaint with the EU. Now while I’m not here to debate what’s right or wrong. These issues have certainly created a fork in the road for the future of app distribution.

The Technology

Technological advancements in the web are levelling the playing fields when it comes to performance between native and the web. Chrome is pushing the boundaries as to what is possible with progressive web apps (PWA). We now have access to the Notifications API which gives us native style notifications. Chrome is also currently working on a File System API which will allow web apps to read and write data natively.

But what about native-level performance. For years we’ve been bottle-necked by the technologies and languages able to run the browser. Fear not. The smart folks over at Mozilla have been working hard on a technology called Web Assembly. There is no need to get bogged down in the details of what Web Assembly is (at least in this article) but essentially it gives us the ability to write code that can compile to a Web Assembly binary and run in the browser with near-native level performance. Think Call Of Duty running in your browser.

The best thing about these advancements is web apps will all also be installable onto your iPhone home page. They will also be able to run offline! Now hopefully you are starting to see why the walls are closing in on the App Store and it may be time to get out.

Discovery

There is a metric called the zombie rate. This is a way of measure the percentage of apps that don’t make it into the categories top lists such as “Top 100 games”. A higher zombie rate means that new apps are less likely to be seen by consumers.

As the App Store grows the zombie rate increases. Popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp cement their place at the top of the lists. We are at a point now where it takes something special to rise through the ranks. Or in most cases a tonne of investment capital to throw into a large scale marketing campaign. So the viability of using the App Store as a market place to showcase your new app has become less and less attractive.

Alongside the aforementioned giants like Facebook, the App Store was once a vibrant place because of apps like Vine and Flappy Birds that were developed by independent programmers. If those apps were released today perhaps we would see them storming the progressive web app space rather than the App Store.