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HomeTechnologyiOS 18 could 'sherlock' $400M in app revenue

iOS 18 could ‘sherlock’ $400M in app revenue

Apple’s practice of leveraging ideas from its third-party developer community to become new iOS and Mac features and apps has a hefty price tag, a new report indicates. With the release of iOS 18 later this fall, Apple’s changes may affect apps that today have an estimated $393 million in revenue and have been downloaded roughly 58 million times over the past year, according to an analysis by app intelligence firm Appfigures.

Every June at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, the iPhone maker teases the upcoming releases of its software and operating systems, which often include features previously only available through third-party apps. The practice is so common now it’s even been given a name: “sherlocking” — a reference to a 1990s search app for Mac that borrowed features from a third-party app known as Watson. Now, when Apple launches a new feature that was before the domain of a third-party app, it’s said to have “sherlocked” the app.

In earlier years, sherlocking apps made some sense. After all, did the iPhone’s flashlight really need to be a third-party offering, or would it be better as a built-in function? Plus, Apple has been able to launch features that made its software better adapted to consumers’ wants and needs by looking at what’s popular among the third-party developer community.

Of course, this practice also raises the question as to whether or not Apple is leveraging proprietary data to make its determinations about what to build next, and whether or not the apps it competes with are being offered an even playing field. For example, before Apple launched its own parental controls system, it shut down many third-party apps that had built businesses in this space by saying their solutions were now non-compliant with its rules and policies. The apps weren’t offered access to a developer API for managing Apple’s built-in parental controls for years, prompting an antitrust investigation.

In more recent years, Apple has “sherlocked” third parties with launches of features like Continuity Camera, medication tracking, sleep tracking and mood tracking, as well as apps like Freeform and Journal. This year, it turned its attention to password managers, call recording and transcription apps, those for making custom emoji, AI-powered writing tools and math helpers, trail apps and more.

In an analysis of third-party apps that generated more than 1,000 downloads per year, Appfigures found several genres that had found themselves in Apple’s crosshairs in 2024.

In terms of worldwide gross revenue, these categories have generated significant income over the past 12 months, with the trail app category making the most at $307 million per year, led by market leader and 2023 Apple “App of the Year” AllTrails. Grammar helper apps, like Grammarly and others, also generated $35.7 million, while math helpers and password managers and math helpers earned $23.4 million and $20.3 million, respectively. Apps for making custom emoji generated $7 million, too.

Image Credits: Appfigures

Of these, trail apps accounted for the vast majority of “potentially sherlocked” revenue, or 78%, noted Appfigures, as well as 40% of downloads of sherlocked apps. In May 2024, they accounted for an estimated $28.8 million in gross consumer spending and 2.5 million downloads, to give you an idea of scale.

Many of these app categories were growing quickly, with math solvers having seen revenue growth of 43% year-over-year followed by grammar helpers (+40%), password managers (+38%) and trail apps (+28%). Emoji-making apps, however, were seeing declines at -17% year-over-year.

Image Credits: Appfigures

By downloads, grammar helpers had seen 9.4 million installs over the past 12 months, followed by emoji makers (10.6M), math-solving apps (9.5M) and password managers (457K installs).

Although these apps certainly have dedicated user bases that may not immediately choose to switch to a first-party offering, Apple’s ability to offer similar functionality built-in could be detrimental to their potential growth. Casual users may be satisfied by Apple’s “good enough” solutions and won’t seek out alternatives.

However, apps that continue to develop new features and add enhancements beyond what Apple includes while also taking advantage of other new ways to reach users, like through Apple’s improved Siri, may have a better shot than others.

Image Credits: Appfigures

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