Apple’s iOS 7 release likely to be the most impactful iOS update yet

With all of the rumors, screenshots and testimonials from people that have seen one of the various beta releases of iOS 7, we know that it is going to be a big change. But relying on the comments of initial developer reactions to iOS 7 and the fact that Apple is reportedly pulling support resource from the Mac and OS X support teams to help out in the coming weeks, I think this is going to be the most significant iOS update Apple has ever released, especially after looking at the changes in app counts, App Store submissions and adoption rates over the last few months.

Looking at the data from the iTunes Store being collected at over the last few years, one may think that iOS 6 development activity has dropped off the face of the earth. Following the announcement of iOS 6 at WWDC in 2012, the number of apps in the App Store continued to increase at a steady rate. This year however, when developers returned from WWDC in 2013, the growth in total number of apps in the App Store seemed to taper off.

App Count Prior to iOS Release

For the two-year period leading up to WWDC in June 2013, the monthly growth rate of all apps in the app store held steady at an average of 4 percent each month. Since iOS 7 was announced, that growth rate has slowed to less than 1 percent per month in August. One plausible reason would be that new apps are targeting iOS 7 rather than releasing a new app on iOS 6 then having to update to iOS 7 shortly following the release.

App Count Growth Rate

While holding off until iOS 7’s release seems to make sense, developers did not react the same way in 2012 with the announcement of iOS 6.  The number of submissions to the App Store also being tracked by may help understand the situation a little better. The average number of submissions for the twelve-month period starting in June 2012 and ending in May of 2013 was 28,404. Starting in June 2013 that number fell significantly, reaching just 7,322 submissions in August 2013. The same drop-off in app submissions to the App Store did not occur following the announcement of iOS 6 in 2012.

App Submissions Prior to iOS Release

One interpretation of these facts is that most iOS developers have spent the summer updating their apps in preparation for the launch of iOS 7 later this fall. With such an impact to both app counts and submission rates, there are obviously a lot of development teams working on iOS 7 updates and making do with their current iOS 6 apps beyond bug fixes. This slowdown in app submissions may also account for the faster-than-normal turnaround times, in number of days, for app reviews indicated on the “OS App Store Rolling Annual Trend Graph” tracked by Shiny Development.

OS App Store- Rolling Annual Trend Graph

With so many updates likely being put on hold until iOS 7 is released, one should expect these review times to increase significantly the first few weeks following the release. While app submission rates are likely to return to normal the moment iOS 7 is released, the total app count may take another hit following the release.

It may come as a surprise to many that since the first app was downloaded from the App Store, more than 370,000 apps have been removed. In fact, only 887,337 out of a total of 1,248,675 apps are still in the App Store. The reasons for apps being removed vary from a change in direction for the developer, Apple pulling the apps for reasons of its own, and even customers complaining that the app does not perform as it should.

Apps Still Active in App Store

One reason why apps no longer perform as they should can be failing to update when a new iOS release comes out. With the number of developers focusing on iOS 7 updates being large enough to impact submission rates and app growth to the extent that it has this summer, there is likely more going on under the hood than in previous releases. It is very likely that the changes being made require iOS 7.

Using my own app library as an example, 677 out of a total of 2,097 apps have not been updated in the last twelve months and 345, or 16 percent, have not been updated in the last twenty-four months. That same 16 percent very likely will not be updated this fall either. How quickly owners of outdated apps will start reporting issues to developers and Apple alike will depend on the adoption rate of iOS 7.

iOS 6 First Month Adoption

Looking at the adoption rate of iOS 6 last year, within one month of its official release, sixty-one percent of iOS users had already updated. By June of this year, that number reached ninety-three percent of all iPhone users.  Assuming iOS 7’s release follows suit, a sizable population of app owners will be finding out which of their apps are able to run on iOS 7 in the next few months.

Depending on how many outdated apps start having serious issues, the number of apps that get pulled from the App Store could be significant.  Large enough to keep the overall growth rate of the number of apps in the App Store down a few more months. Who knows; it may even shrink.