Has the Remote Work Boom Peaked?

Thomas Kriebernegg, General Manager, SplitMetrics Agency, explores the latest data from SplitMetrics’ study of business and productivity apps

It’s no secret. Remote working is popular across employees and businesses, and despite a lot of predictions on the contrary, it is here to stay. In fact, a survey has shown that 61% of those that can work outside their work office, choose to work remotely. The pandemic and its many consecutive lockdowns has proved that office workers can be as productive – if not more productive – when working from home or their chosen location. Many startups and freelancers have been doing that even before the pandemic. It’s not that surprising. Give your team the proper tools, the flexibility and the trust they deserve, and their productivity will flourish.

That is why we thought at SplitMetrics that it would be interesting to examine business and productivity apps and how they have performed over the past couple of years. Our study has revealed a slowdown in downloads for productivity and business apps on the Google Play Store. While overall download numbers remain high, the growth rate has dipped compared to the surge experienced in 2022 and could suggest that the remote work boom of the post-pandemic period has peaked.

The study, based on data from the App Radar platform, shows a decrease of 12% for productivity app downloads and a smaller decline of 0.26% for business app downloads year-on-year. Despite the slowdown, these categories continue to see substantial activity. The top business apps still garnered an impressive 681 million downloads in 2023 (682m in 2022), while the top productivity apps reached a staggering 9 billion downloads (10bn in 2022).

In terms of lifetime downloads, the top apps in the business and productivity categories have reached 4.7 billion and 55 billion downloads in the Google Play Store.

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The dominance of established players like Google Drive and Calendar points towards a saturated market for core productivity functionalities. Users might already have their preferred tools, leading to a decrease in first-time downloads.

The top five Android apps in the business category in terms of lifetime downloads are LinkedIn (1.5bn), Zoom (1.1bn), Microsoft Teams (426m), OfficeSuite (195m) and Indeed (188m). In the productivity category, the top five Android apps in terms of lifetime downloads are Google Drive (10bn), Google Calendar (6bn), Microsoft OneDrive (4bn), Google Assistant (3bn) and Google Keep (2.7bn).

Looking at the apps with the biggest growth year-on-year, the study has found that the top five apps in the business category to be Lopay: Payments & POS (339% increase in 2023 when compared to 2022), Etsy Seller (329%), JobSwipe (221%), Parcel Tracking – pkge Mobile (144%) and Shopify (83%).

In terms of productivity, PDF Reader – PDF Viewer (701%), Notepad (457%), All Document Reader (431%), Google Tasks (29%) and Link to Windows (21%) experienced the biggest percentage growth in 2023 when compared to 2022.

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A different study of Apple Search Ads we conducted – Apple Search Ads Search Results Benchmark Report 2024 – found that the business category boasted a high Tap-Through Rate (TTR) of 12.44% (above average) and a strong Cost-Per-Tap (CPT) of $1.98, demonstrating user interest and willingness to engage with business app advertising.  However, the category also had a high and above-average Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) of $2.93, suggesting it’s a competitive environment to acquire new users.

Productivity apps, on the other hand, enjoyed a high TTR (11.82% – above the average of 10.22%) but a lower CPA ($1.64) compared to the average of $2.58. This indicates a strong user base and a more cost-effective environment for acquiring new users within the productivity app category.

Productivity had its highest CPT and CPA in May, June, and September, suggesting it may have been influenced by the busy exam seasons at schools and universities.

What does this mean for the future of productivity and business apps?

While a small decrease in productivity apps is notable, the continued dominance of established players suggests a market saturation for core functionalities. The significant download numbers for both categories still highlight the ongoing need for these tools, but it will be interesting to see if developers focus on niche solutions or innovative features to reignite download growth moving forward. Will we see more hyper-focused apps that cater to specific workflows and professions? This could include more project management tools for businesses, time management apps or productivity tools for content creators. Developers will also have to take advantage of the latest tech and functionality whether it is AI-powered automation, gamification or building more integrations with other ecosystems.

Additionally, the cost disparity between user acquisition for business apps compared to productivity apps offers valuable insights for app marketers looking to optimise their strategies in a competitive landscape. App developers and marketers will be focusing on retention, for sure. Keeping existing users engaged will be crucial. Other than improving the user experience (e.g. streamlining workflows, improving app navigation, and prioritising a user-friendly interface), this could involve integrating with other popular tools, and offering freemium models with premium features.

It’s an exciting time to be in this app market. The slowdown in downloads is not a sign of decline, but rather a call for innovation and user-centricity. While downloads might not surge in the same way they did initially, there’s still a strong demand for efficient and effective tools. The key for developers will be to adapt to this maturing market by offering innovative solutions or focusing on user retention strategies.