US mobile owners are downloading apps but not using them

A new extensive Pew Internet study on apps and their usage has come up with some stats that may worry developers out there.

Yes, users are downloading apps, but relatively few users then subsequently use the apps. Which is oK if you’re planning on making revenues from a paid app, but disappointing if you’re planning on making revenue from ads in an app, or you’re planning a subscription-based app.

The research entitled The Rise of Apps Culture has found that

Of the 82% of adults in the US today who are mobile phone users, 43% have software apps on their phones. When taken as a portion of the entire US adult population, that equates to 35% who have phones with apps. This figure includes adult mobile users who:

  • have downloaded an app to their phone (29% of adult mobile phone users), and/or
  • have purchased a phone with preloaded apps (38% of adult mobile phone users)

Of those who have apps on their phones, about two-thirds of this group (68%) actually use that software. Overall, that means that 24% of US adults are active apps users. Older adult cell phone users in particular do not use the apps that are on their phones, and one in ten adults with a cell phone (11%) are not even sure if their phone is equipped with apps (they’ll probably be the BlackBerry users see our recent post ).

When compared with other mobile  phone using adults, and the entire US adult population, the apps user population skews male, and is much younger, more affluent, and more educated than other adults. Overall, the apps-using population also skews slightly Hispanic when compared with other adult cell phone users.

While 24% of adults, 29% of adults with mobile  phones, use applications on their phones, apps use still ranks relatively low when compared with other non-voice cell phone activities. Taking pictures and texting are far and away the most popular non-voice cell phone data applications, with more than seven in ten adult cell phone users embracing these features of their phones.

Percent of adult phone users who do each of the following on their phone…
Take a picture 76%
Send or receive text messages 72%
Access the internet 38%
Play a game 34%
Send or receive email 34%
Record a video 34%
Play music 33%
Send or receive instant messages 30%
Use an app 29%

As with the apps-using population as a whole, downloaders are younger, more educated, and disproportionately male when compared with the total U.S. adult population. And while they resemble adults who only have preloaded apps in terms of education, they are still disproportionately young and male even when compared with this group.

“An apps culture is clearly emerging among some cell phone users, particularly men and young adults,” said Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project. “Still, it is clear that this is the early stage of adoption when many cell owners do not know what their phone can do. The apps market seems somewhat ahead of a majority of adult cell phone users.”

“This is a pretty remarkable tech-adoption story, if you consider that there was no apps culture until two years ago,” said Roger Entner, co-author of the report and Senior Vice President and Head of Research and Insights for Telecom Practice at Nielsen. “Every metric we capture shows a widening embrace of all kinds of apps by a widening population. It’s too early to say what this will eventually amount to, but not too early to say that this is an important new part of the technology world of many Americans.”

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