A new study finds that more mobile users are downloading apps, but many seem to rely on just a few. Downloaders tend to be the young, the well-educated or the well-paid.
Half of adult U.S. cellphone owners now have apps on their phones, compared to 43% in May 2010, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, which surveyed 2,260 adults in July and August. For all U.S. adults, 42% now have a cellphone with apps.
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For the first time, Pew explored tablet apps. Of 10% of all adults who own a tablet (or 8% of the total U.S. adult population), 75% download apps. Four out of 4 tablet owners who download apps also download apps to their cellphones.
But, as Pew phrases it, downloading apps is "not synonymous" with using them.
The May 2010 Pew Internet data found that among adults with apps on their phones, 68% reported actually using them. In terms of all U.S. adults, that meant that 35% of adults had apps on their phone, but 24% of adults actually used them.
The latest data seems to differentiate app use based on the number of apps being used, not on how often they're used. So for adults with apps on their cellphone, 51% use one to five apps at least once a week, and 17% say they use no apps on a regular basis. Nearly one-third (31%) use six or more apps on a weekly basis. For adults with a tablet computer, 39% report using six or more apps at least once a week, and just 8% report using no tablet apps regularly.
Pew again casts this data in terms of all U.S. adults. When it does so, the results are that 35% of all adults report using any apps on their cellphone on a weekly basis, and just 9% say they use apps on a tablet at least once a week. With regard to cellphones, more than 4 in 10 of all adults (42%) "do not have apps on device."
The demographic profile of people who are downloading apps remains basically unchanged since 2009, according to Pew. "App downloading on cell phones remains concentrated among young adults, those with higher incomes and education levels, and those living in urban and suburban areas," the new report says. "Adults who download apps to tablets (the majority of whom are also cell phone app downloaders) skew slightly more female and older than cell phone app downloaders in general. They also tend to be from higher income households, and more highly educated."
According to Pew, apps are still an activity of the young. "[A]ge is the strongest predictor of app use," the report says. "Not only are younger adults more likely to download apps, they are also more intense users of the apps they have."
Overall, app downloaders look for software that keeps them updated on things like news, weather and sports, that let them communicate with friends and family, and helps them learn about something they are interested in. According to Pew, the most popular app types (based on the percentage of app downloaders who have downloaded this type) are:
Information updates: 74%
Communication with others: 67%
Help in learning about something: 65%
Getting more info about something: 53%
Help with work-related tasks: 48%
Help in shopping/buying: 46%
Watching movies/TV: 43%
At the same time, Pew cited recent Nielsen data that shows mobile games account for the majority of app downloads: "In the second quarter of 2011, Nielsen reported that 64% of app downloaders in their survey had used a game app in the prior 30 days. Next most widely used were weather apps (60%), followed by social networking (56%), maps/navigation/search (51%), music (44%) and news (39%)."
The Nielsen data also shows that downloaders are more willing to pay for game apps than other category. "Among their sample of app downloaders, 93% said they are willing to pay for the games they play," Pew noted. "Large percentages of downloaders also said they were willing to pay for entertainment apps (87%), productivity apps (84%), maps/navigation/search apps (84%), food apps (77%) and news apps (76%)."
Still, the percentage all adults who have bought an app is almost unchanged from a year ago: "46% of adults who download apps report having paid for one at some point, which is statistically equivalent to the 47% who reported doing so in May 2010," according to the new report. "However, since the app downloading population as a whole has grown, that means that 16% of all U.S. adults have ever paid for an app, compared with 13% in May 2010. This is a small but statistically significant increase."
Of the 46% who have paid for an app, about half of them (52%) say that the highest price they paid for an app is $5 or less. Another 17% of this group has paid more than $20 for an app.
The downloaders most willing to pay are men, adults age 30 and older, college graduates, adults with household incomes of $50,000 or more, and those living in urban communities.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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