App rot is a big problem on the App Store. With recent changes to the Review Guidelines, Apple is tackling app rot by removing outdated and unsupported mobile apps from the App Store.
App developers have published more than 2 million mobile apps since the App Store first launched in 2008. Starting from a few thousand mobile apps in the early days, the App Store quickly ballooned to millions of mobile apps as developers took advantage of the App Store Gold Rush.
A mobile app is born every 2 minutes. Every day, developers submit more than 900 mobile apps to the App Store for the first time. Developers update another 800 or so apps each day. Since almost anybody can publish on the App Store, developers have freely created apps of all genres and complexities.
But most mobile apps fail. Most developers fail to acquire users on the App Store or they fail to monetize their audience. With such a large number of mobile apps to compete with, it is more difficult than ever to build a successful mobile app.
When a mobile app does fail, it does not die completely. It stays on the App Store, available to new and existing users. These apps are essentially frozen in time. Developers will never update them. There is nobody to provide support. But they accumulate, forming the bulk of apps available on the App Store.
App rot is the phenomenon of app developers abandoning their own apps on the App Store. Although app developers abandon many apps because the apps are not commercially viable, they also abandon apps that hit peak popularity and are in decline. The lifetime of a mobile app is short and 50% of its use will happen in the first 6 months.
Sweet Pricing tracks a limited number of Android and iOS mobile apps. Of the mobile apps published before 7 September 2015, 25% received no update within the next year. Although we do not track every iOS mobile app, our data shows that app rot is a sizeable problem within the App Store.
As time goes on, improvements to iOS will make some older apps incompatible with the latest devices. It is said that Apple will remove support for 32-bit mobile apps in iOS 11. The change, which will happen in late 2017, will make almost 200,000 mobile apps incompatible and Apple is likely to remove those apps from the App Store.
But Apple is also acting proactively to remove old mobile apps. In September, they updated the App Store Review Guidelines. With these new rules, Apple is using an ongoing review process to systematically remove incompatible or abandoned mobile apps.
Quality on the App Store
App rot is a problem for user experience. Users expect mobile apps to work with their latest devices. And they expect the experience to be free of bugs. Mobile apps that offer a subpar experience will struggle to gain traction on the App Store, so it is important to consistently deliver value to users.
Although many apps are well built and stand the test of time, there are some changes outside of the developer’s control. New features, API deprecation in the iOS operating system and changes in style (UI/UX) all require regular app maintenance.
App developers cannot expect the App Store to host their outdated and unsupported mobile apps. It is clear that Apple intends to aggressively remove old mobile apps. If an app developer wants to continue distributing their mobile app, they have no choice but to do maintenance over the app’s entire lifetime.
The attack on app rot appears to be a small part of the drive to quality on the app stores. The number of mobile apps available is absurd. Mobile apps are already heavily filtered on the app stores, by way of search ranking, top grossing lists, app features/promotions and paid marketing. The removal of app rot is largely cosmetic, but it is a significant step in the drive to quality.