Early Warning Signs: App Usage On Mobile Phones Still Not That Impressive

from the don't-get-swept-up dept

Like many people, I recently got an Android-powered smartphone, and had plenty of fun seeking out various apps to make the phone "better." It can be pretty cool at times, but even I've realized that I use a very small percentage of the apps I got, and I rarely go looking for new apps these days. Nearly two years ago, we discussed a study highlighting how many iPhone apps were installed, but went unused, and wondered if that might be an early warning sign that apps aren't quite as popular as people think they are. Of course, these days, app hype has reached ridiculous levels, with many companies literally betting their business models on the success of apps. There definitely is value in apps, but I do worry that the focus on apps is leading people to overestimate their importance.

Some new evidence echoes that study from a couple years ago, and again suggests that those who are now obsessed with apps may wish to be at least a bit cautious about the opportunity. Nate was the first of a few to point us to the latest Pew study, which also shows an awful lot of people with smartphones that have apps, just don't use them. Of course, some of it may be semantics. The study notes that there may be confusion over whether or not pre-installed functionality is an app or not. Still, it should remain at least a cautious warning sign that app downloads does not mean app usage...


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    kyra (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 10:47pm

    After having an iphone for years, I stopped using most apps after only 2 weeks. Currently the most used apps on my phone are Soduko, Redbox, Pandora, and TWC.

     

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    Derek Bredensteiner (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 11:27pm

    Re:

    I don't think that is that uncommon of a pattern, nor unexpected. You try a lot of apps, maybe you find a few you like and have repeatable utility. You use those few apps. Isn't this pretty obvious to anyone using a smartphone? Oh, I know what it is ... those guys betting on it have blackberry's.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 12:51am

    The March To Keep Fear Alive

    I thought you were a Palm Punter.

    How did you get an upgrade before your two years, Mike?

     

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  4.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 1:12am

    Rapid Iteration

    I have felt that the rapid turnover of mobile apps, and the fact that developers keep turning them out without a lot of investment of time or money, is a good thing. It's a steady stream of ideas, some more useful than others, some more popular than others. I think the creativity is quite impressive even if most of the apps have a short life span.

     

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    Chunky Vomit, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 3:30am

    Now I don't feel so bad for not using apps that I download. There are tons out there, and they look good to start with, but in the end, they just aren't useful enough for me to keep going back to.

    Is it the app's fault? Sometimes. Most of the time, they don't fulfill any desire that I originally thought I had.

    That said: I have a Motorola Droid, first gen. I have four home screens that I put stuff on. I probably have over 100 apps on this thing. Virtually everything I use is on the first screen (12 icons). The screen to the right is all speed dials (5 icons) and the screen to the left is a couple of news feeds (three icons). The outter home screens are empty. I rarely ever touch my app button that brings up everything, though, every now and then I do go in there for something.

     

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    lfroen (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 3:49am

    Re:

    So, you do use apps. What was your point again?

     

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    lfroen (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 3:59am

    Desktop OS have even more apps, should I use them all?

    What an incredibly useless study. Some people use built-in apps, some download from third party. What exactly surprising here?!
    Windows have literally thousands of apps, and on my computer installed only 3. OMG, app usage on computers in not impressive! PC software vendors will fail soon!

    Techdirt really disappointing sometimes

     

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    Steven (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 4:35am

    Re: Desktop OS have even more apps, should I use them all?

    I was going to make the same point, but you beat me to it. I'd be surprised if most people had more than a half dozen apps on their computer that they use on a regular basis.

    I would expect the number apps in use to go up as network speed/reliability, battery life, and phone processor speeds go up, but not in a huge way. This also has to do with it being a new market that people are still trying to find out how people use their phones so they can deliver software that really works for the users.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re: Desktop OS have even more apps, should I use them all?

    The major difference is that the six apps I use at my computer are useful even when I'm not on the toilet.

    This is about the perceived value of apps to consumers. If my app usage is something like 90% toiletfuntime, 8% accidental pocket activation, and 2% actual usage; you can be sure I'm not going to pay a lot for an app.

    And while it feels like a new market, this is really just moving the development sphere away from the vendors and opening a market previously monopolized by telecoms. The calculator on my phone from 2000 was just an app from Verizon. You've been able to download locked-in vendor apps for a decade or more.

     

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    David L (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 6:23am

    App usage

    For me, it's much like buying that high end Swiss Army knife with all the crazy blades. I buy it knowing that I will rarely if ever use most of them, but its reassuring knowing that I have a leather awl and shackle opener with marlin spike just in case I ever need it.

    I download many apps that meet a *potential* need, even if it is unlikely that I ever really need/use the app. For example, I don't travel much at all, but I have a translator app, an app that performs currency exchange calculations, an app that allows me to book airline, hotel and rental car reservations, etc. I don't go out to the movies much, but I have an app that can tell me what's currently playing in every theater for miles around, along with show times and the ability to buy tickets instantly online. I am not a scientist or organic chemist, but I have a periodic table app, just in case I should ever need to quickly know the melting point of Francium (27 degrees Celsius.) You get the idea.

     

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    Matthew (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 6:24am

    Robust Web Browsers

    The killer app for the new smartphones is, ironically, not an app, but the robust web browser experience that they can offer. Apps are big news because they are easily monetized, but the real revolution is having full-featured access (ideally, that would include flash, but that's its own issue) literally at in the palm of your hand anywhere, at any time.

    Anyone who is focused on apps is not seeing the big picture - they're just blinded by $.

     

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    Steven (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 6:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Desktop OS have even more apps, should I use them all?

    You're right that you've been able to download apps for a very long time. It's not a new market for the cell phone providers it's a new market for application developers. Prior to the iPhone the ability for some random programmer to deliver an application to a phone was almost non existent (as much as I like Java, Java ME was a failure in the phone market). And now with Android it's even better.

    This is still a very new market for general mobile applications.

     

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    David (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 6:40am

    I like the Swiss Army Knife analogy..

    I have an android phone (my second actually), and before that used Windows Mobile phones... I have a ton of apps installed, none that are paid, but I have no objection to the ad-driven ones... The only one I use on a regular basis is the SMS app. I like Handcent better than the pre-installed one. I use the built in browser, and a few others, but that is about it.

    I use the games and e-book reader apps when I have down time. I used to carry a book with me all the time, but now it is unnecessary. Just fire up the phone, and play around...

    It is good to know the stuff is there, when I want it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 7:36am

    Consider that apps can be written for use in HTML5 environments, its a bit misleading to say people are not using apps. People are just not using what Apple "allows" them to purchase, while anyone with a modicum of internet browsing experience can access many other programs not offered by the Apple store.

     

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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 7:44am

    Wired's iPad lovefest

    It has been bugging me all the attention Wired gives to the iPad and their subscription app. Then they come out with articles stating the web is dead and now everybody just wants to pay for apps that give us content...says the media company who would love that source of income.

     

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    Alimas (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 9:03am

    I Use a Crapload of Apps

    I have ~45 apps I downloaded onto my Motorola Droid.
    About half of those see constant use, the rest are occasional use or apps that only have use in uncommon circumstances.

    I don't understand why people would even have these phones if they weren't using them to they extent they could be, such as I do.

    I've had the phone since it's release and I still check the Market for new useful apps.
    Don't tend to find as many these days, but I still look.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 9:50am

    When I got my droid on day 1, I downloaded about 12 games. All were played once, then deleted.

    I tried some of the utility apps that were appropriate for my line of work, but none could begin to rival my ultraportable in functionality. All were deleted.

    When Google and ~100+ companies were breached by China, and none of them fully disclosed the breach, I deleted my Google account, and stopped using my phone for anything personal beyond basic communication. Tinfoil hat, but there are 100+ companies out there with rooted infrastructure so bad that they refuse to disclose how badly to the public.

    My next phone hopefully will be a Linux-based device that is not tied to any exclusive provider. I rarely use the phone part of the phone, so I won't miss voice.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 10:11am

    A lot like songs

    I download some songs before I have even listened to them because they are being offered for free. Whenever I need to free up more space I listen to the songs and delete many of them because I know I will never listen to them again. I don't think anyone is saying don't make songs or don't download them because most aren't going to be keepers.

    So we might start saying "apps are like music." There are more of them than anyone can consume, but keep them coming.

     

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  19.  
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    ChimpBush McHitlerBurton, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 12:14pm

    Software Overrated?

    This just in:

    Recent studies are showing that of all the software purchased for desktop computers, much of it goes unused after a certain amount of time - leading researchers to wonder - Is it really worthwhile to write software?

    This begs the important question: If you write software and people buy it and then don't use it, how will this affect your future profit potential? Perhaps you should take a long hard look at your business model and ask yourself if this whole "software writing and then selling to people who may not use it" thing is really worth all the hassle...

    Yeah, you might want to be cautious about that "opportunity"

    CBMHB

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Rapid Iteration

    7 Tips For Rapid Iteration (aka The Quirky Approach) :: Tips :: The 99 Percent

    3. Don't worry about the new, focus on the next.
    Fail and fail fast. At Quirky, every product we develop, whether it’s a runaway success or a huge flop, teaches us valuable lessons that we can apply to future iterations of that product or other products. Whether it’s a failure, success, or something in-between, there's always something to learn from each iteration. We’re never “done,” which allows us to stay on our toes and figure out what's the next step for that initiative, instead of worrying about what was just delivered.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 10:11pm

    This story is way too general. I make apps for a living and one particular app I help develop is not only growing supremely fast, we are seeing tremendous reuse of our app. The majority of our customers who bought the app on day one of apple opening the app store are still using our app on a weekly basis ( and we are still making money off of them ). I am not obliged to say what company or app this is because I am not a partner in the company, but the partners have been very candid with me about the financials... And we are doing great.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 10:13pm

    Re: The March To Keep Fear Alive

    I thought you were a Palm Punter.


    Nope. Whatever gave you that idea?

     

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    Dr Huge (profile), Sep 18th, 2010 @ 4:10pm

    So?

    There's a Long Tail of apps. Why is that suprising? makes perfect sens and just repeats a pattern that's well documented in humanity ...

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 18th, 2010 @ 4:30pm

    Re: So?

    There's a Long Tail of apps. Why is that suprising? makes perfect sens and just repeats a pattern that's well documented in humanity ...

    This has nothing to do with the long tail. It has to do with people thinking apps are more popular than they really are.

     

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    Daryl (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    When needed.

    I find that i usually use the apps whenever i need them instead of all the time. They are not like games downloaded that you would access on a daily basis or mobile e-mail. For example the person that said he has redbox. I may only go to Redbox once a weeek but it comes in handy that one time to get a code for a free movie. Or the NFL mobile app that i only use once a week, to listen to the Vikings game whenever they are playing.

     

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