There’s An App for That, But Is it Used?

According to a new report, “The Rise of Apps Culture,” from Pew Internet & American Life Project:

  • 35% of U.S. adults have software applications or “apps” on their phones
  • 11% of cell owners are not sure if their phone is equipped with apps
  • Only 24% of adults use those apps
  • Among cell phone owners, 29% have downloaded apps to their phone and 13% have paid to download apps.

“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.”

Popular Types Of Apps (% of recent downloaders who have used each category of apps in the past month)
App % of Recent Downloaders
Games 60%
News/Weather 52
Maps/Navigation/Sea… 51
Social Networking 47
Music 43
Entertainment/Food 34
Banking/Finance 28
Sports 27
Productivity 26
Shopping/Retail 24
Video/Movies 22
Communication 21
Travel/Lifestyle 18
Other 3
Source: The Nielsen App Playbook, December 2009. September 2010

Having apps and using apps are not synonymous, concludes the report. Of those who have apps on their phones, only 68% of this group actually use that software. Overall, that means that 24% of U.S. adults are active apps users. Older adult cell phone users in particular do not use the apps that are on their phones, and 11% of adults with a cell phone are not even sure if their phone is equipped with apps.

Popular Apps Used (% of adult cell phone users who do each of the following on their phone)
App Use % of Cell Users
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
Source: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, April 29-May 30, 2010 Tracking Survey. September 2010

When compared with other cell phone using adults, and the entire U.S. 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.

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.

App Users Are Disproportionately Male, Young, Educated And Affluent (% of each group in each demographic category)
   App Users Adult Cell Phone Users Who Do Not Use Apps Total U.S. Adults
Gender
   Male 57% 46% 48%
   Female 43 54 52
Age
   18-29 44 18 23
   30-49 41 34 34
   50+ 14 46 41
Race/Ethnicity
   White (non-Hispanic) 64 70 69
   Black (non-Hispanic) 14 12 12
   Hispanic (English-speaking) 14 11 11
Education
   Less than high school 8 12 13
   High school graduate 24 35 34
   Some college 29 24 25
   College graduate 39 28 28
Annual Household Income
   Less than $50,000 41 43 46
   $50,000-$74,999 15 15 14
   $75,000+ 36 24 24
Source: Pew Research Center, April 29-May 30, 2010 Tracking Survey, September 2010

While 24% of adults (29% of adults with cell 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.

App Use (% of adult cell phone users who do each of the following on their phone)
Activity % of Cell Phone Users
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
Source: Pew Research Center April 29-May 30, 2010 Tracking Survey, September 2010

Those who download apps do so fairly frequently. Among apps downloaders, 53% say their most recent download was in the past 30 days, including 33% who say their last download was within the past week. As a fraction of all cell phone-using adults, that equates to 15% who have downloaded apps in the past month, and 10% who have downloaded apps in the past week. Among cell phone users under age 30, 20% have downloaded an app in the past week.

Among the 29% of adult cell phone users who download apps, 47% have paid for an app, with the remainder saying they only download apps that are free. Put in broader context, that means that 13% of all adult cell phone users have paid to download an app to their phone. There are few notable demographic differences between downloaders who pay for apps and those who do not.