Social media apps to be eclipsed by messaging and VPAs, says Gartner

By Taylor Holland


Social media apps are still the most popular mobile apps, but it may not stay that way for long. Gartner predicts messaging apps will take the top spot in the next two years. According to Gartner’s recent study, “User Survey Analysis: Mobile Apps, U.S., U.K. and China, 2016,” 83 percent of consumers used social media apps in 2016, down 3 percent from 2015. Video app usage also slowed from 73 percent to 71 percent.

However, 71 percent of people used messaging apps in 2016, a 3 percent year-over-year increase, and 35 percent used virtual personal assistants (VPAs), versus 31 percent in 2015. Gartner analysts say these shifts are part of a larger trend called “the post-app era.”

Scaling Back and Beefing up

Jessica Ekholm, research director at Gartner, said in a press release, “We are witnessing the beginning of the post-app era based on the evidence that users are starting to use fewer apps actively on their smartphones. At the end of 2016, only 33 percent of survey respondents used six to 10 apps a month, which is down 6.2 percent from a year ago.”

As people use fewer apps, they expect those apps to do more. They want, as Ekholm put it, “rich and engaging app experiences and are increasingly looking for apps that can offer a multitude of services without users having to leave the app itself.”

VPAs might also be replacing some information-gathering apps. In 2016, users relied on Siri and Google Now — the most popular VPAs in the US and UK — to check weather forecasts (70 percent), find places to visit (44 percent) and read news stories (44 percent). As VPAs become more sophisticated and accurate, their conversational interfaces enable users to get information faster and more easily than by using apps.

Gartner’s advice for business and app developers? Make apps more robust.

“Being able to enhance services and introduce new experiences into messaging platforms without the user having to download further apps makes them critical real estate for innovation,” Ekholm said.

Joining Forces

Though the one-to-many broadcasting capabilities of social media apps seem to be losing some appeal, more people are having one-to-one conversations with friends and colleagues through messaging apps. In the US and UK, Facebook Messenger (81 percent) and WhatsApp (61 percent) remain the most popular mobile messaging apps, while WeChat (95 percent) holds strong in China. Of the survey respondents who had used messaging apps, 72 percent logged in daily.

Gartner expects messaging apps to become “increasingly engaging and rich as more features are added to them, whether creating more engaging user-generated videos, chatting with customer services or having more e-commerce possibilities within the app itself.”

What does this mean for brands and mobile app development? Ekholm recommends integrating bots on social platforms, which eliminates the need for users to switch between apps and can potentially transform workflows, which would “allow companies that have chatbots to improve touchpoints, help customer service efforts and ultimately help fuel sales revenue.”

Written By

Taylor Holland

Founder, Taylored Editorial, LLC

With 11 years experience writing about business and technology trends for both media outlets and companies, Taylor Mallory Holland understands how mobile technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration, and reimagine…

Other Articles by Taylor Holland
See All Posts