Put the champagne on ice: there are only a couple of months until the mobile app celebrates its fourth anniversary.

Apps have enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence in their short lifetime, having first appeared on the screens of early adopting iPhone users back in July 2008.

By March 2012 Apple reported 25 billion downloads, with app downloads tracking at one billion per month, a number matched by its major app store competitor, Android Market.

Apps have made a healthy contribution to Apple's revenues, generating an estimated $6 billion, which includes the 30% Apple takes in its share of app download spend, charges from in-app payments, and revenue from iAd, its in-app advertising business.

Global explosion

Today's smartphone users, who now outnumber non-smartphone users in the UK, USA and other leading mobile markets, have a choice of around two million apps in the stores hosted by Apple, Android, Microsoft and BlackBerry. Further to this, app downloads are now tracking at two billion per month.

For the marketer, the logic for investing in apps is compelling. There are three key reasons:

1) Personalisation

Mobile is the ultimate personalised marketing channel: we don't share our handsets, and most of us never part company with our phones.

When I download an app, it becomes "mine", creating an easy, convenient and instant one-to-one shortcut to the chosen brand through a bookmarked icon on my handset or tablet which can be accessed 24/7, in all locations, with or without internet access or cellular signal.

2) Payment channel

Through iTunes Apple established a convenient, secure and trusted channel for music lovers to download and pay for music.

Users set up their accounts online, added credit card details just once, and agreed terms and conditions authorising Apple to charge them via their mobile bills for multiple purchases, typically at low transactions costs, ranging from 78p to £3.

The iTunes store then added books, other goodies and Apps to be paid for using the same payment channel. This payment model has since been replicated by Android and Microsoft.

3) No credible alternative

For many years, mobile internet fell well short of its potential in delivering a satisfactory internet-based engagement channel for information-hungry mobile users.

This created a vacuum for apps to gain traction and multiply, unopposed. The phenomenal app success story has been turbo-charged through slick marketing by the app stores, and by the emergence of advertiser-friendly specialist app companies which talked the right language when appealing to client and agency based creatives, developers and C-level staff.

Success factors

Whatever the business sector and consumer proposition, apps are all about delivering a clear consumer benefit, delivering engaging content, maximising download volumes and ensuring frequent use.

This explains why the biggest app categories are games and social networking, which account for 62% of all app usage.

If you are struggling to tick one or more of the following boxes, your app is unlikely to hit the mark with download volumes or frequency.

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