Competing in the app marketplace: why even try?

One recurring piece of spam in the Incite mailbox comes from an offshore app-development firm who ask, rather presumptuously, ‘What types of app would you like to develop?’ followed by a menu of options. Would we like to develop a successful social network, maybe? Well, sure why not?

The global mobile app business was valued at $206 billion in 2022 and there is an expected yearly growth rate of 13.8% (CAGR) from 2023 to 2030. This maybe isn’t surprising. For many, mobile phones seem to have become an almost indispensable extension of their arms. And brands continue to rush into the space to drive engagement.

Lizzie Eckardt, Incite’s Head of Health, encourages us to ask a different question though: who in their right mind would develop an app in 2023?

With only 1 in 10,000 apps predicted to be successful and 80-90% of apps being discarded after one download, the world is full of apps that aren’t used to their full potential. So why are brands and businesses willing to compete in this hugely competitive saturated market?

In my role as Incite’s Head of Health, this is an important question for many healthcare businesses at the moment. There are vast opportunities to drive engagement within the health app space, from reminder apps, to doctor consultation apps, to pharmacy delivery apps, to chronic healthcare apps and so on.

But there is also a colossal scope for failure.

And this is not a health-specific challenge. Any business with digital engagement aspirations should be asking themselves: if the space is so crowded, why even try to compete?

By looking at what the best apps are good at we can start to get a better idea of what apps are good for.

We see four key themes.

They minimise effort

TikTok continues to be one of the most used and downloaded apps in 2023 and is a great example of minimising user effort.. The bitesize content is effortless to view, starting as soon as you open the app, and selected by a continuously learning algorithm, meaning that users keep coming back for a quick fix of content they know will be relevant.

They aid discovery

Airbnb ‘puts personalisation at the heart’ of its strategy. Not only are they providing recommendations on accommodation types, but they now expand to provide tips on places to see, restaurants to visit etc. All guided by clever algorithms that adapt to and learn from our online behaviours.

They are community focused

Strava entered a highly competitive running and fitness app market. They stood out from the crowd because they created an app to fit a user group of runners that already existed. They built the app around that community and their needs.

They incentivise 

And if we look at some of the more successful apps in the health industry, chronic health apps like MySugr (a diabetes tracking app), have helped people to have better control over their condition by engaging their users with motivating challenges and gamification.

So put simply, if those are things that apps do well, that tells us something about the types of challenges apps can solve for your business and your potential users.

Again the healthcare space illustrates this well.  Effortful treatments and technology are common, as are opaque, complex pathways that can benefit from better discovery. Communities are often a critical part of the wider support network that patients need. And incentives to things like greater compliance are very often hard to build.

As with any investment in marketing, product, or service delivery the commercial and audience challenge has to come first and the solution second.

So, to answer the question “Why develop an app?” bear the following in mind:

1 / Be clear on your goals

The first and most important step is being completely clear on the objective of the app and/or the problem you are solving

2 / Have the user in mind

To truly design an app that will have meaningful outcomes, you need to understand your audience and their current beliefs and behaviours. Are you trying to disrupt current behaviours or leverage them?

3 / Consider the context and ecosystem

Who are you up against and how can you stand out? What is the optimal delivery of the solution?


While apps remain a very tricky market to break into and make a significant impact, the excitement around future digital opportunities, particularly within the health sector, remains high. Whether it be connecting patients and health care providers to their data, the increase in wearables, the potential for virtual reality or platforms that will support medical distribution the same principles should apply.

At Incite we focus on delivering clarity and inspiration for our clients, helping to unlock opportunity and drive business growth. If you need help thinking more critically about how you’re driving customer engagement, please get in touch.