Apps are multiplying, but use is lagging

Posted: November 03, 2011

Apps are catching on, sort of.

Clearly, the number of applications for smartphones and tablets is skyrocketing along with sales of those devices.

There are apps for learning Russian, touching up photos, playing Angry Birds, finding pizza, and myriad other activities.

But so far, only about half of U.S. adults with cellphones have apps on their phones, and only about one in four cellphone owners age 18 or older has ever paid for an app, whose prices typically start at about $1, according to a survey out Wednesday from the Pew Research Center's ongoing Internet & American Life Project.

What's more, the survey found only two-thirds of people with apps on their phones ever use them.

That's a serious underuse of smartphone computer capabilities. Everyone from bird-watchers to brain surgeons can turn to an app to enhance experiences and work.

Wednesday's survey didn't touch on how children and teenagers are adapting to apps - presumably with more gusto than their elders. Pew researcher Kristen Purcell told me that's the subject, in part, of a survey to be released later this month.

What adults are using smartphone apps for, according to the Pew research, are the same things that drew us to the World Wide Web, e-mail, and untethered phones in the first place - getting informed and staying in touch.

"While they are a significant departure from search engines and Web browsers, the basic needs apps meet are not revolutionary," said Purcell, author of the report.

She found that the most commonly downloaded apps are those for news, weather, sports, or stocks. That category is followed by apps that help people communicate with friends and family, including via Facebook and Twitter.

"While mobile apps are a fairly new approach to accessing online content, the main functions they fill for users are the same we've seen with previous technologies - namely, information-gathering and communication," Purcell said.

"The takeaway," she said, "is there are a lot of apps out there; only a handful have sticking power."

The Pew survey found cellphone ownership at 84 percent of the 2,260 adults surveyed in July and August. Tablet ownership was 10 percent, and e-book reader ownership 9 percent, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, desktop-computer ownership had fallen to 55 percent of respondents, from 68 percent in 2006, as laptop ownership nearly doubled, from 30 percent to 57 percent of respondents, over the same period.


App Appreciation

Kind of apps adults choose to put on their smartphones.

                            % who

Type of application             download

News, weather,

sports, stocks                  74

Communications (social)      67

Learning                        64

Travel                           53

Work-related tasks            48

Shopping                     46

Video viewing                  43

Health management            29

SOURCE: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, July 25-Aug. 26 tracking survey.


Contact staff writer Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, rkanaley@phillynews.com, or @ReidKan on Twitter.

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