Is advertisement the only business model for mobile?

I recently attended a conference where the main theme was how to grow the audience for mobile apps. The landscape was pretty broad from games to social apps, e-commerce and so on. There were two main themes that kept being repeated at the conference: advertisement and attribution.

For those like me that aren’t familiar with attribution it’s essentially a set of tools to monitor where clicks come from. This is useful in two ways: to track which of your marketing campaigns are working and to limit fraud.

A talk I really enjoyed and that was full of data points was from Chris Calderon @ Gamejam. He offered a lot of detail around user acquisition strategies and costs when developing hyper casual games. An interesting aspect of hyper casual is that as a developer you should acquire users at the lowest possible cost (true for everyone) so that your users will see the most ads. This to me sounds like a numbers game, <ads I show> – <ads to acquire user> = <profit made>.

A related topic that came up more than once is the relationship with the Play Store and App Store. It’s key to have a relationship with the staff there, but even when developers have a relationship, irrespective of the app category, they have no control over their own fate. Getting featured on the opening page of the store makes any app an instant success, but get below the top 10 of your category and nobody will ever find you.
As a developer you are left advertising your apps on Facebook while you hold your breath and hope to get noticed and given a shot at the opening page of an app store. It’s not an exciting perspective, especially if you are a small or even medium development company.

To make the situation more complex users aren’t really keen to pay a premium. Top games on consoles cost tens of dollars and often come with monthly subscriptions, but in the mobile world apps are at most 99 cent or a few dollars. Hyper casual games are quintessential of this landscape: maximize ad revenue versus cost of (user) acquisition.

So this left me with more questions than answers. In a time when more and more people are wondering how to find the right balance between meaningful ads without giving up (completely) privacy why are developers cornered with only 1 viable business model?

Mobile phones seem to have opened a million opportunities, but aren’t there better ways to earn a decent profit from creating apps (utility, games or other) that is not showing as many ads as possible?