In July 2012, app stores — first popularized by Apple — will be four years old. There is still a lot of room to improve the discoverability and sharing of apps. For example, locally relevant content and monetization options are often missing. Adding social discovery, personalization, and recommendation features are key to improving the user experience.

However, app stores have already had a dramatic impact on the distribution of games and are starting to offer new forms of engagement between brands and consumers. Consumer usage of the most popular mobile apps has exploded in the past two years. A third of European online consumers ages 18+ who own a smartphone are using apps daily or more frequently. Seventeen percent are using apps several times a day. Stickiness and frequency of usage vary tremendously from one app category to the other. Among European online consumers ages 18+ with installed apps on their smartphones, 57% use social networking and 48% use news apps at least daily, while 69% use finance and banking apps at least weekly.

First-generation apps — aside from gaming apps — rarely made the most of the unique attributes of the mobile platform and were rarely integrated with back-end systems. We believe the market is poised for a second wave of consumer apps that are more personalized and contextual. Here’s what to expect:

■          “Big data” will enable more contextual experiences on mobile apps.

■          We'll see smarter, connected apps.

■          There will be a shift from native to hybrid and web apps.

■          Multiplatform apps will reign supreme.

A successful app strategy requires a mobile product road map with the constant iteration of new features and services that directly address the evolving needs of consumers. Here are a few basic principles on how to approach apps as products and define their life cycles:

■      Market apps in the stores and among core target audiences.

■      Progressively add new features and services.

■      Invest in mobile analytics and surveys.

■      Introduce new business models.

■      Localize your mobile app approach

■      Use push notifications to drive engagement.

What are the most successful and innovative apps you've come across? Feel free to comment below.

Clients who want to know more about this can download my "The Mobile Application Life Cycle" report.