As discoverability continues to be a major hurdle for many app developers, new Sensor Tower research projects that Apple's App Store will be home to more than five million active apps by the end of 2020, a catalog 73 percent larger than we project it will have at the end of 2016. In this report, we'll present what this growth looks like over the next four years, and break down the categories adding the most new apps by month.
In order to produce this report, Sensor Tower's data science team analyzed historical data and trends from the App Store's launch in 2008 through present, utilizing our App Intelligence platform. The forecasted and historic figures shown in the growth chart below account for worldwide active apps on the store at the end of each period, as opposed to the total number released (or projected to be released) in past or future years. These figures account for universal, iPhone, and iPad apps combined.
There were just over 5,000 active apps on the App Store worldwide at the end of 2008, a figure which grew to 1.75 million seven years later at the end of 2015. With just over two million active apps on the store worldwide as of this writing, we project that this figure will grow to 2.93 million by the end of 2016.
According to our projections, the App Store will add an additional 2.13 million apps over the next four years to contain 5.06 million active apps by the end of 2020—doubling its size as of this report, and growing by 73 percent over where we estimate it will be at the end of this year.
Digging deeper into the makeup of apps being released each month on the App Store, we also took a look at the category breakdown of all apps added worldwide in May 2016. In all, 48,231 new apps debuted on the store in May, with the Games category accounting for approximately 43 percent of that figure at nearly 21,000 new games added for the month.
The remaining 22 categories accounted for the other 57 percent of new apps, with Education, Entertainment, Business, and Lifestyle rounding out the top five in terms of apps added. Weather saw the fewest new apps in May at 134.
We know where the App Store is heading in the next four years in terms of number of apps, but what does this mean for app developers—not to mention Apple itself? It's clear from the difficulty developers are having getting their apps discovered on a store containing roughly two million apps that some significant steps on Apple's part will be required to make discoverability viable when there are more than twice that number to contend with.
We've seen the first steps on Apple's part to address discoverability issues, such launching new categories and announcing plans for Search Ads in advance of June's WWDC. But in light of our new findings, we're convinced that far more significant changes to the navigation, curation, and overall presentation of the App Store will be needed to support an ecosystem that's twice today's size just four years from now.
Some of these improvements will likely come in the form of user interface upgrades, while others may very well benefit from Apple's accelerated push into machine learning. We're already seeing so-called assistants making their way into core areas of iOS itself—most prominently in the new iOS 10 iMessage and Photos refresh—so it's not unrealistic to imagine a near-future App Store assistant that learns from user behavior to deliver customized recommendations, intelligently surfacing new apps based on behavior patterns or even conversations with others.
For now, however, the most prudent course for developers concerned about discoverability is one that begins with fundamental App Store Optimization techniques and iterates on them consistently to stay on the forefront of App Store search.