As a concept, mobile dating isn’t really new. It’s been around since the invention of mobile phones. Smartphones and apps are just the shiny new tools in the age-old quest for love.
Americans now use dating apps more than online dating sites, according to a 2011 report by Flurry Analytics. “The number of people using dating apps is growing faster than the number using all apps,” it said. “In short, dating is a growth category.”
Globally, the mobile dating market is expected to be worth $2.3 billion by 2016, up from $1 billion in 2011, according to Juniper Research. Most apps use the “freemium” business model, where it’s free to sign up, but people pay a fee for premium features.
Match, eHarmony, Skout, Grindr, OkCupid, MeetMoi, Plenty Of Fish and Badoo each boast a distinct personality and millions of user profiles, messages, chats, winks, flirts or other measures of dating app success. The iTunes store has countless dating apps under its social networking category.
But much like dating, finding just the right match is no easy task, according to industry experts.
At a swanky Los Angeles hotel in June, six single people sat before a roomful of industry executives to discuss that issue.
This annual conference is a gathering of the biggest players in the dating app business. The six participants had signed up for a first-of-its-kind mobile dating boot camp, organized by Julie Spira, an author and cyber-dating expert.
Their mandate was simple: Try out two apps for two weeks and provide honest feedback.
While developers collect their own statistics and user responses, this was the first time this sort of focus group was organized, she said.
Franklin Horn had never tried mobile dating before.
“I don’t think I would have started it on my own, and I’m in the software industry,” said Horn, 27, who works at a tech startup in Santa Monica. “It’s a hard thing to put yourself out there.”
He used three apps: eHarmony, Skout and MeetMoi. While he didn’t go on any dates, Horn said he exchanged about 150 casual messages with a few women.
“Since I’m single and busy, I wanted to use it as a way to practice flirting and see the technology behind the apps,” he said.
Another participant, Joe, 30, from Chicago, described his experience in a blog.“With these apps it feels like, ‘Hey, I’m in the area, I’m looking to hang out,’ he wrote. “You know what somebody’s intention is. It’s a little more explicit up front.”
The perception about mobile apps, which is not totally inaccurate, is that they’re meant for casual dating. Most companies advertise them as a way to “meet new friends,” which is why they fall under the social networking label.
Skout’s homepage puts it simply: “Life is short, you are busy and people are having fun without you right now. So start Skouting and find your party, anytime, anywhere.”