"Bad Piggies," the main enemies in the popular gaming app Angry Birds, inspired this display enjoyed by fans outside landmark skyscraper Taipei 101 (Taipei World Financial Center) in Taipei. Photo: CFP
No one can deny that we're living in an era of mobile Internet, with our daily lives constantly inundated by an army of apps, simultaneously beeping at us with new instant messages, news alerts, reminders and updates from our family and friends - replete with photo albums to look at or high scores to beat. For Christina Wu, a 29-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing, life without a smartphone - packed full of apps to help keep her life in order - is unimaginable. "I'm constantly on my phone, using WeChat, playing Temple Run or checking a bunch of other apps," she told the Global Times. "I honestly don't think I'd be able to get through the day without my relying on my favorite apps - they pretty much run my life."The iPhone 5 user, who is constantly switching out old apps for new and better ones, is exactly the kind of tech savvy customer that app developers love - and hate. Though the app market is booming, it has become overcrowded, saturated with apps that are hot one minute and forgotten about the next - forcing uncreative developers unable to connect with customers' changing needs and wants - to retire early from the market that has only just emerged in the world's largest marketplace for smartphones. China's smartphone shipments rose 10 percent at the end of the first quarter this year, and are expected to hit 86 million shipments for the second quarter, according to the latest figures from a late September report by market research firm IDC. And as apps continue to comprise a key component of the competitive smartphone industry, the swelling app market in China is unlikely to calm anytime soon, given that Chinese smartphone users have made it clear that they are crazy for many more instant-messaging, social media and gaming apps, said Zhao Wenyuan, a research analyst at Forrester Research. App bonanza The gaming genre has notably set out the treasure trove, with several mobile game makers such as "Angry Birds" maker Rovio and PopCap, known for "Plants vs. Zombies," continuing their fame despite the ever changing winds in the app arena. Apart from these foreign names, a number of Chinese mobile gaming developers have also risen to fame in the domestic market. Fishing Joy developed by Beijing-based PunchBox has seen the ups and downs of the industry. Currently riding an upward wave, PunchBox recently unleashed a slew of new ads for its latest version of Fishing Joy in a rare move by an app developer, which analysts say could show promise for the game's viability despite the crowded market. In the second quarter of the year, the size of the country's mobile gaming market in terms of revenues soared 56.2 percent compared to a year earlier, according to recent data from Beijing-based Internet consultancy iResearch. It is a booming market that social networking app developers also want their share of - and Tencent's WeChat has been dominating in this arena, attracting an enviable 600 million users, news portal sohu.com.cn reported in late October. But even the apps that get off to a strong start are not destined to survive the roller coaster ride - full of twists and turns ahead - with many once-popular apps having already crashed and burned in the face of market competition.Are apps dying?Thirty-five percent of 100 dead apps, according to statistics from The Founder magazine earlier this year, fall under the social networking category, or the "most-likely-to-be dead genre." Shanju, a geography-based social networking app launched in late 2011, for instance, has already been dropped from Apple's App Store.More than 1 million apps were created over the past five years for iOS gadgets (prior to last year), but only 111,540 of those apps ever gained any traction, according to AppsFire.This shows how risky it would be for tech-savvy investors to blindly foray into the flourishing app market. And market watchers note that existing challenges in China's app market are especially noteworthy. Among them, the most bewildering is perhaps the complex ecosystem of app distribution channels in China, according to Forrester's Zhao. "Android has the top smartphone OS share in China, while Google Play isn't easy to access. Meanwhile, the country's three telecom operators and online service giants like Tencent have all launched app stores, and the number of local startups like Gfan are also providing app downloads," he said. And because Android app stores in China usually follow a free-download model, app developers and operators hoping to make profits are put at a further disadvantage, added Zhao. "Only innovation and unique business models can ensure longevity in the mobile Internet battlefield," Li Jibing, CEO of Beijing-based Inforgence Group, a mobile publication app platform developer and operator, recently told the Global Times. The former chief economist and general manager of strategic planning with China Unicom, China's second-largest telecom operator, pointed to the phenomena surrounding mobile publication apps today. Due to the sheer volume of information offered, readers are baffled and cannot keep on top of all the text out there. As a result, overwhelmed readers are increasingly turning to video and audio content as a supplement to text articles and photos, said Li. For Inforgence Group, which has been offering mobile users the latest in video and audio content on-the-go since the company started in 2009, the payoff has been strong. It has already broken even due to the high user-demand for its content, according to Li. He said that the key to surviving the first five and most difficult years in the cash-burning app sector is attracting a high number of users quickly, predicting that his company would net annual profits of more than 100 million yuan ($16.42 million) by its five-year mark. "There are plenty of amazing opportunities to be had yet in this industry," he said.