The Christmas App Splurge Is Slowing

Photograph by Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

Christmas has long been the biggest day of the year for app developers, who benefit as those who receive smartphones and tablets go on downloading sprees and worry when Apple employees take holiday vacation. And while that trend has continued this year, Christmas Day seems to be getting a bit less exceptional.

On Monday, analytics firm Flurry released statistics on app downloads on the holiday. Overall, app downloads on Christmas Day increased 11 percent from the year before, making it the biggest ever. But the number of apps downloaded on an average day in December rose by much more—25 percent. Christmas isn’t quite just another day, but the pack is catching up. Last week, Flurry released statistics showing that the spike in new devices on Christmas is also slowing.

Here’s what’s going on: People unwrapping devices they get as gifts are likely to download a handful of new apps, making Christmas a unique opportunity for developers. Facebook even encourages app makers to target ads to customers who have recently accessed the social network on a new device. But there’s less reason to buy someone a smartphone or tablet for Christmas when everyone you know already has one. Increasingly, that’s the situation in Western markets. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for developers; it just means that downloads are spread more evenly throughout the year. That poses deeper challenges for device makers, who are all working on how to sell to developing markets.

Also, writes Flurry’s Mary Ellen Gordon, “the biggest growth in mobile now is coming in countries where Christmas is a less significant holiday or not celebrated at all, so new device activations and app downloads come at different times of the year in those places.”

How much people are using apps on the holidays seems to be a different matter altogether. Flurry’s data on app usage this Thanksgiving showed a spike of 25 percent, up from 20 percent the year before. While some of this was an early start to the holiday shopping season, media and gaming apps were the categories that saw the biggest increase. So it seems that we’re moving past the era of giving one another smartphones as holiday gifts, and toward the era of using those phones to ignore one another when we get together.