Mobile Apps Are Hot, But Don’t Forget Emerging Markets

The mobile application economy will be worth $17.5 billion by 2012, according to a report released this morning from analyst Chetan Sharma — surpassing that of the worldwide market for CDs. But while all eyes here in the West are focused on the iPhone (s aapl) and Android (s goog) devices, much of the expected growth will come from users in emerging markets with less sophisticated handsets.
The 19-page document, which was commissioned by the UK app retailer GetJar, found that Asia was the top worldwide market for overall download share in 2009, while North American users accounted for more than 50 percent of total global mobile app revenues. That will change in the next several years, however, as the region comprised of the Middle East and Africa overtake North America to become the world’s largest market for mobile app revenues by 2012.

But unlike North America, where users with high-end smartphones are happy to plunk down a few dollars for a time-killing casual game, growth in emerging markets will lean more heavily on productivity apps used by consumers who don’t have regular fixed-line Internet service. And app developers and distributors will be tasked with finding ways to monetize their wares beyond simple one-off purchases.
“The thing you have to keep in mind when talking about emerging markets is that in places like India, 90-95 percent of consumers are on prepaid cards,” so the concept of paying for mobile content over the phone is nonexistent, Patrick Mork, who heads up marketing for GetJar, told me last week. “But in India (the market for mobile applications is completely different. Some of the social networking brands are still big, but apps there are much more focused on productivity — things like Opera Mini and things to protect your phone like anti-virus apps.”
So while jiggling body parts and fart simulators can be quick money-makers in the West, developers and retailers in other markets would do well to offer apps similar to the stuff we use on PCs. They’d also do well to experiment with advertising and other ways to monetize those apps.
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