LONDON: The vast majority of branded apps are failing to make an impact with consumers, a multimarket study by Deloitte has argued.

The consultancy predicted smartphone sales would hit 700m units worldwide by 2014, versus 170m in 2009, while tablet purchase levels are projected to reach 70m by the latter date, surging from just 1m.

"Needless to say, part of the reason for the success of these smart computing platforms has been the rapid growth of a base of applications," the study said.

An international survey of 31,000 mobile subscribers showed 34% of respondents owned a smartphone, and 45% of this group downloaded an app on a weekly basis.

"Clearly there are sales opportunities ... but the customisability, connectivity and interactivity of smart devices promises to make them the ultimate advertising platform," the research said.

"Handheld smart devices offer a lean-forward experience where the user is concentrated on what they are doing and have only a small amount of screen real estate to focus on."

An assessment of leading consumer and healthcare brands around the world by Deloitte demonstrated just 20% of apps produced by its sample were downloaded more than 1,000 times.

Within this 20%, less than 1% of applications were downloaded a minimum of 1m times, according to the report.

However, Deloitte also quoted research revealing three-quarters of consumers expect brands to have one of these tools, meaning that "non-participation in app stores is not an option."

A game developed by Volkswagen supporting its Touareg model delivered a six-figure download total, yielded 3,500 test drive requests, and an average player age of 35 years old.

Kraft's iFood Assistant was named as an equally strong example, aided by the fact it "bundles together" a range of important characteristics.

These include "networking effects", by enabling users to upload and share recipes, alongside providing coupons and discounts.

Moreover, it features prominent Kraft branding, allows the company to gather useful data, and fuels sales through a GPS store finder.

Brand apps based on "portability" secured an average 81% greater likelihood of success, shown by Pepsi's Loot, rewarding shoppers with free music for visiting certain physical sites.

Petcentric, from Nestlé's Purina, gave information to pet owners about nearby facilities - for example vets, parks and stores - and was similarly effective.

Apps using "accelerometer" functionality saw a 77% lift, with Miller Genuine Draft's pedometer and the Latin Recipe Shaker from Nestlé's Carnation giving random meal suggestions when shaken.

Sophisticated touchscreen use logged 61%, the same as location-based offerings like the Tesco Finder, directing customers to any product in supermarket stores.

As there are now 425,000-plus apps in Apple's App Store, and more than 250,000 on Google's competing Android Market, getting attention is difficult.

"As with any multichannel environment, the key to success is to be noticed. And this is really hard for brands and advertisers," Deloitte said.

Employing keywords in app and developer names for search purposes, encouraging reviews and word of mouth, incentivising downloads, and running short promotional "bursts" influence rankings, are all viable strategies.

As creating apps for more than one operating system is 160% the cost of doing so for a single channel, a targeted approach is also required.

While Apple boasts the strongest engagement and downloads rates, its audience is concentrated on professional, white collar workers, meaning campaigns seeking a broader reach may have to look elsewhere.

Data sourced from Deloitte; additional content by Warc staff