Consumers’ Embrace of Mobile Apps Is Limited to a Choice Few

Mobile app use has become a powerful habit among U.S. consumers, based on new research findings from comScore.

An increasing number of users have been spending their time consuming video, music and social media on smartphones and other mobile devices, but many are set in their ways and reluctant to try new apps, the data suggests.

The 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report, released last week, shows that a large percentage of mobile app users’ time is spent on social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram; watching videos on YouTube; or listening to music on apps like Spotify or Pandora, noted Andrew Lipsman, senior vice president for marketing and insights at Comscore.

It’s becoming much more difficult for new app categories to break through, as fewer users are downloading apps in new categories, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“It’s a harder market,” Lipsman said. “You have to come up with something really new and novel.”

Habits Hard to Break

A majority of smartphone users don’t download any new apps per month, according to the report. Discovery of new apps is down across multiple channels, including app stores, word-of-mouth recommendations and advertising.

Millennials download new apps, but older users are less interested in adding them and are showing signs of becoming net deleters. The main reason for deleting apps across all age groups appears to be that they have fallen into disuse.

The top 10 apps on an app user’s smartphone account for at least 96 percent of their time spent using that device, according to the study, and the No. 1 app accounts for half their time.

Facebook and Google dominate, controlling the top six and eight of the top 10 most-used apps. Facebook is the top app. Facebook Messenger is No. 3, and Facebook-owned Instagram is No. 6. Google owns YouTube, which is No. 2. Google Search and Google Maps hold the No. 4 and 5 spots, and Google Play and Gmail, are No. 8 and 9. The two remaining apps in the top 10 are Snapchat at No. 7 and Pandora at No. 10.

Developing Trend

The market for mobile apps is still large and continues to show growth, from a revenue perspective. Consumers worldwide will spend US$56.4 billion on games and mobile apps, with 82 percent of that revenue coming from gaming apps, based on data from New Zoo. By 2020, that revenue will grow to $85 billion, with 76 percent coming from gaming apps.

However, the number of new apps installed on a given smartphone is steadily declining, IDC’s research shows.

“Smartphones have been around for a while in all markets, and consumers have long had the ability to go get whatever they want or need,” said John Jackson, research vice president for mobile and connected platforms at IDC.

That said, “getting discovered is hard,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “It has always been hard and it will remain hard, although this is changing.”

Some innovations — like Android Instant Apps from Google, deep linking from websites, and app-to-app linking concepts like Android Intents and iOS Extensions — could mitigate the challenge of app discovery.

Android Instant Apps is a tool that allows users to check out a new app without fully downloading the app onto their device.

The more important trend for developers may be the fact that the big social media and search companies, like Facebook and Google, have acquired a lot of these new applications and incorporated them into their own ecosystems — for example, Facebook Instant Articles or, more recently, Facebook Watch, a new video platform.

“When new apps do break through, they tend to be attached to emerging, interesting businesses and processes,” observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Ride-sharing has been one on the higher end of the spectrum, while the localized services trend has emerged on the lower end of the scale, he told the E-Commerce Times. Interestingly, the internal problems at Uber have opened the door for a new set of emerging ride-sharing app competitors.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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