Casey Ferrell is a research analyst at Cutting Edge Information. He will be guest blogging at IIR’s upcoming ePharma Summit 2012 (February 6-8, 2012 in New York City). You can find him on Twitter or over on his company’s blog.
Smartphones will become the standard device consumers will use to connect to friends, the internet and the world at large, and that future is nearly at hand. The share of smartphones as a proportion of overall device sales has increased to 29% for phone purchasers in the first six months of last year, and 45% of respondents to a Nielsen survey indicated that their next device will be a smartphone. Predictions based on current growth rates — much of which is fueled by emerging markets — put the number of smartphones in use by 2014 at more than 1.5 billion.
The majority of smartphone owners have downloaded and used mobile applications, or apps. According to research, iPhone users have the most installed apps, with an average of 37 per device, whereas Android users have 22. These figures are significantly higher than those from just a year ago, and apps are poised to proliferate in lockstep with the growth of smartphone usage. But a problem with apps is usage retention. An oft-mentioned factoid from the Digital Pharma East conference this week pointed out that only 5% of people still use an app one month after downloading it.
Pharmaceutical companies are aware of the potential for mobile applications and have already built a robust array of offerings. More than 15,000 apps are available in the Health/Fitness and Medical categories for the iPhone alone. Research by the California HealthCare Foundation found that most healthcare-related apps are related to exercise, stress management, diet and medical reference. Close to three-quarters of apps are geared for consumer — or patient — use. The rest are aimed at physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. To wit, one company alone offers more than 600 medical apps for physicians, nurses, med students and institutions, focusing on delivering answers to clinical questions in more than 35 specialty areas. Apps for clinicians hold the potential to revolutionize the way in which healthcare is administered. There are digital imaging apps for ECGs and radiological procedures; there are apps that improve emergency room efficiency; and there are apps designed to improve patient-physician interaction, including some that facilitate remote consultations.
But if usage retention rates continue to hover in the single digits, the industry will soon realize the market is saturated with one-off mobile health apps and that despite the low cost of developing them, there is even less ROI than it first envisioned. Research from a report I recently led shows the industry sees commercialization as the phase ripest for mobile technology.
The emphasis on product commercialization is evident in this graphic based on my research. It shows survey respondents’ average ratings of mobile technology as a support tool for each development phase on a scale of 1 to 10. In early development phases, mobile ranked lowest at an average of 3.6, and the average climbed steadily through the development phases to a high of 7.4 for mature products.
I would argue that given the gold rush to develop apps for the commercialized marketplace, there is an opportunity for the industry to shift its focus and look for innovative ways to use mobile technology to improve clinical development. From streamlining trial data collection and analysis to connecting potential trial patients to investigators, the clinical development space is an opportunity for pharma companies do differentiate themselves from the pack, find more value for their mobile investment and improve pipeline challenges that impact bottom lines. In other words, while developing consumer apps may be the trendy approach, other stakeholders, like trial patients, physicians, investigators and clinical development staff, stand to benefit if more mobile technologies were aimed at them.