Study: Apps not that important to smartphone users

We've seen the headlines, we've heard the pundits (looking at you, Scoble) that tout apps as the "big" thing on smartphones. And while initially this may hold true for new users, the novelty wears off, or so suggests a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

In that study, 68% of users only use five or fewer apps at least once a week. Furthermore, 17% don't use any apps on a regular basis while only 42% of respondents even have apps on their phones. Those are certainly interesting numbers and what it suggests is people are downloading lots of apps but rarely use them on a regular basis. In fact, we hear this often from developers who don't get many ad-hits in their apps after a few weeks despite seemingly large numbers of downloads. Speaking of, the study also points out that judging an app's popularity by number of downloads alone is probably not a good metric (though app reviews and number of them may be).

In other interesting stats from Nielsen, Android users spend about 90 minutes a day on their phones, two-thirds of that time in apps (probably customizing their UI, just kidding). That suggest that even though few use many apps, the ones they do use, they use often and on a regular basis.

While no numbers are revealed for Windows Phone users, it will be even more interesting for our users since things like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are baked into the OS, reducing the number of popular services that people need to download separate apps for. That will only increase if Microsoft continues, as expected, to bake in other services as the OS grows and updates roll out. This of course makes us ask the question: Do you fit this model or are you folks app-fiends? (We're also pretty sure games don't count as apps for the purposes of this study).

Let us know in comments....

via USA Today (opens in new tab); Thanks Mark W. and ZX9, for the tips

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.

  • I'd agree. I have alot of apps but I only use about 10 total with 4 of them on a regular basis. (excluding games)
  • I think live tiles would throw off Windows Phone app usage.  I never open my weather app, but I get all the info I need from it anyways.
  • I use this app several times a day ;)
  • I'm a big fan of mobile sites and avoid using apps unless there isn't a good alternative. I'm always paranoid they'll zap battery life or steal my data. Board Express was useful before WPCentral had mobile-friendly forums. Now I don't see a need for an app when the mobile site is just as good. That being said, the one app I would love is a Starbucks-created giftcard app.
  • Did you migrate to Windows Phone from Android? ;-)
    On WP apps cannot stead your data or kill battery life.
  • Its tricky, I've always felt that mobile sites were hit and miss, but with WP7 apps you get a slick metro UI. Different strokes for different folks, I guess... =P
  • Only useful apps. :)
  • I have over a hundred apps, yet only have 15 pinned to my start aside from the native ones. The rest are mostly 'just in case' apps like recipes, quotes, appdeals, level app, flashlight, etc. Live tiles are Microsoft's greatest OS idea yet :)
  • This is how I use my phone as well. I have about 15 to 20 apps that I find extremely useful, the rest are for having around just in case. However, I do have a list on a home screen tile that reminds of useful app usage iscenarios like when I'm shopping, exercising, watching TV ect. This reminds me to use them just before I engage those activities.
    App Plug: One of the most useful apps that I cherish and use 2-3 times a week is an app called "Pros & Cons". If you have to make important decisions frequently about things that can have a really positive or negative impact in your life and you truly want to avoid the negative ones, this app is a god send. The user experience is perfect, highly recommended!
    I also agree that the built in features of Windows Phone and live tiles definately cuts down on the times I have to actually go in and use an app.
  • I play a lot of games and also use photo apps like apict/fantasia painter quite often. Like most, people hub and zune are my most used overall but apps and games are definitely important to me!
  • The most amazing thing to me is the hub aspect, in one spot you can find a ton of apps! It really hit me in the music/videos hub...any video and music/radio entertainment app can be found in one location. You all knew that already though =[
  • Apps are what make an smartphone smart.
  • I disagree... A smart phone covers basics in os. IOS isn't smart, but WP is:)
  • Other than the WPCentral app, Engadet, Netflix, and a few others... I don't really use many apps. Most of my apps are only used once or twice a week. On my Android I would add Facebook to that list but its not needed on WP7!
  • Novelty apps like face-swap are always fun from time to time but not for long term use. This app, sleep phase alarm, I'm a wp7 are a few apps that I use regularly. Apps that update their content daily or meet a base daily need have a better 'shelf life' imo
  • Here is my app list..
    4th and mayor and ??????
  • Since facebook and twitter are in the os there's no need.......
  • I use WpCentral daily the rest apart of games , the only I use is the bus timing that's it
  • This is exactly what I was saying on my post against Robert Scoble the other day.
  • I mostly use the stuff baked in with the OS, apps I use daily are wpcentral, WeatherMaster, fox news, also lync at work and of course some xbox live games, I don't have a lot of apps, most of what I have is big name apps or ones I carefully choose and research before installing/buying, I find it really hard to just trust any app/developer.
  • I'd rather have one and not need one, than need one and not have one.
  • I'm of this philosphy. Plus it humors me when I turn on one of my "dormant" Windows Phones to find I have 46 app updates 0_o
  • If your mobile OS has great features and social networks baked in, there's really no reason for alot of apps.
  • Wpcentral is my most used app
  • These studies come out periodically always with the same results, but everyone says lack of apps is why webos failed and WP7 will fail. For some reason people just want to know that hundreds of thousands of apps are available even if they don't really want to use any of them.
  • Kinda like how cable and satellite companies promote the number of channels and people eat it up even though they'll only watch a handful of them.  Greed and our overwhelming desire to consume still holding us down ...
    ... of course my most used app is Fuse because of my overwhelming desire to consume information.  *puts on hypocrite cap*
  • Probably true. Hey, "There's an app for that." Well, sometimes I can see where it can even be a selling point to get an app that you'll only use once and toss - like on our trip to a zoo in another city. They had an iOS app.
    Heck, even for the app I developed I would never use it every day. It's a useful tool (a ballistics calculator) but is only so when I'm at the range or out maybe 10-12 days a year.
  • Actually these studies come out periodically and sometimes they have the same results, sometimes they have very different results. I know that even when I load an app for a very limited event specific reason it's nice to have a deep catalog available.
  • Wow!  Here's an article worth keeping!  This is something I've saying for a while now.  The argument for iOS and Andriod are always about Apps, but how many apps do you really need and use?!  I've been pointing this out on some sites for sometime now referring to previous studies about apps usage. I notice some people have stated they use apps for this site and other sites like these.  I'm sure using apps for these sites might be simpler, but I just save the web pages and go directly to them no need for an app.  But that's my choice.  I recently purchased the Hangman game - played it for 2 weeks; hadn't played it in 3 weeks.  I'm sure my rankings is back in the 5000s.  :)  This is not to say there aren't very useful and great apps out there I just don't see it for using any one particular OS system. And if you come to sites like these you most likely are not the "average" phone user.  You're probably tech savvy and enjoy purchasing tons of apps and continue to use'm.
  • I have 40+ installed and use about 5 of them daily. Another 5-10 see weekly use. After scrolling through I see some that can can go! Seriously, why would someone have a wp7, android, iPhone and not use third party apps? Your forced to pay for the 'beefier' data plan, go all in!
  • thank you!
  • Daily:
    WPcentral (too much)
    My Auto
    Rad now! (in rainy season) a few times a week:
    Tango Video call
    Whether Channel
    Shopglider a few times a month:
    I'm a wp7
    suggestion box
    My AT&T I don't even have Facebook or Twitter installed since 7.5
    I'll download apps and toy with them, but usually delete soon after.
  • I agree. This may also contribute to why WP is so awesome. Why do you want to see a grid of apps you never use?
  • I debunked Scoble weeks ago.
    In the same interview where he claimed that apps were fundamentally important to computing experiences, he proudly announced that he used only a Mac running OS X and never used Windows anymore.  I pointed out that his statement totally invalidated his prior point, since Windows has hundreds of times as many apps as OS X, and he didn't really reply (how could he)? :)
  • Good job.  I shut down a friend of mine with the same reasoning.  He didn't want to admit it, but his values and recommendations were completely tainted by MS hate ...
  • He didn't bother replying because your argument isn't correct (or even very interesting). It's not a case of more apps but a case of enough apps. When big players are missing people notice. The good news is that Microsoft seems to be plugging the big holes.
  • Way to change the terms, Batman! First it was "you don't have enough apps, since we have more." Then, when that bubble is popped by noting the desktop disparity between Windows and the Mac, the argument shifts towards "not having the *right* apps." (Whatever that means). Of course, examples and a clear definition remain ever elusive. The bottom line is, the primary objection by these guys remains "it isn't made by Apple." App counts are merely the latest irrelevant statistic used to pump up a user experience on iOS that is getting a tad long in the tooth.
  • Same here. Only really use wpcentral daily and 5 to 10 apps I'd use weekly or every couple weeks .
  • Light usage, but I'm still glad I have them!
  • Studies must differentiate APP from GAME.
    You APP when you need to do something the phone does not do stock. You GAME when you have free time/bored.
    APP is a need, GAME is fun.
  • I have apps installed that I've never used.
  • I have really gotten use to using the twitter & Facebook baked in access in Windows Phone for quick posts and reading post in the people hub. I tend to use the apps when I need to delve deeper into a those services ie. search.
  • Oh. The two apps I use most are WPCENTRAL and fuse. The rest, once in a while.
  • WPC is my most used app!
  • I have A LOT of apps installed, and have even deleted many as well... But like some others on here, I am prone to making sure I have an app installed, if I see myself even thinking I could use, or just want to play around with... One fantastic feature of WP7 is all of the integrated/baked in features that other platforms have apps for... These are my most used (but this usage is the platform, obviously) WPCentral is an everyday up to 10+ times per day, and up to 20 other various media/news/cloud/game/communication/organization/and just fun things to play with apps... i might not hit all of those categories EVERY day, but most, and usually a few apps/catg. ... I love this platform for many reasons, and the few places where it can be improved i usually find evidence of MS planning to tackle it, or 3rd party companies doing the same... If things keep heading in a progressive manner, as i believe they have, i definitely see WP7 being a HUGE contender, and the ONLY option for me!! I have no problem experimenting and using trials for apps just to see if maybe i might find a way to use them, or maybe benefit me in my day to day routines... Granted, i am probably a bit more if a techie in most eyes' but the world is evolving technologically, so i can see many using their devices in such a manner (if not already) sometime relatively soon... I also like the fact that the integration of my tech devices is a vision of MS's too, as a 360 and Win7 user (Home Server and Media Center included)... I look forward to the advances with all of these products, and hope they all try to keep a close/connected environment, as they seem to be showing the first stages of now!! :)
  • I think we just need the important, big name apps. I still recommend Windows Phone to my friends because it doesn't have apps like Instagram (at least for now), Voxer, Words with Friends, Temple Run, and quite a few others. Hopefully that "top 25" rumor is true.
  • Still can't*
  • I use about 5 apps daily. The rest are just taking up space really. I love app flow though just to see what's new.
  • Hit the nail on the head!!
    People generally only have a start screen's worth of apps and those are the only ones that stick. Android and Apple have reached the curve a long time ago where they stopped gaining anything positive from the number of apps in their marketplace, but they still pound the idea that the most apps means the best platform. Usefulness over quantity is better. If you brush away all the apps that don't stick with large percentage of the users, then you'd have much less apps then is being boasted about.
    You'd probably end up with just twitter and facebook, haha. :D
    Windows Phone is trying to get those top stickiest apps onto its Marketplace, because that is what matters to the masses. Does it have the app I want?
  • I'm sorry but this is the kind of statistic that only benefits the platform with by far the least amount of apps.excuse me if I take it with a half pinch of salt- a proud Lumia 800 owner
  • I play about 10 games on my Windows Phone and use about 10 apps regularly on my iPod touch I play Tiny Tower and use it to listen to music and that is it. So about 10 apps and 11 games on a regular basis for me.
  • I do find that funny when I hear an add for the iPhone or Android bragging: "We have 500,000 apps!" I'm thinking, great, I'll use about 10, as most other people. I do however feel a little left out when all my friends are on and posting things from Instigram or Path, and wish Windows Phone had them. Still i believe Windows Phone is the best OS and experience out there, so I'm sticking with it.
  • Total agreement with Major Crash.
  • If you take a look at the apps you have installed over your phones lifetime (see you may be surprised at the quantity you have tried.
    Personally I'm only going develop games as the chances of an app that makes it big and turns into one that doesnt get uninstalled is pretty low I think.  With games every game can be a unique new experience so IMO its much easier to get a hit.
  • I believe the size of an ecosystem works like the amount of pages of a daily newspaper. You hardly read (use) them all but the more pages (apps) there are the more buyers will find exactly what they need. Thats why a massive amount of apps always make sense.
  • I believe the size of an ecosystem works like the amount of pages of a daily newspaper. You hardly read (use) them all but the more pages (apps) there are the more buyers will find exactly what they need. Thats why a massive amount of apps always make sense.
  • Well i have to disagree as far as WP7 not needing some apps because its built in. Facebook in particular is only half-baked in and due to it not being 'official' it does not show everyones updates (due to privacy settings) so i still need to use the facebook app if i want to see everything. Shame about that and a bit of an oversight for a selling point of the phone.
    Other than that i use about 5 apps regularly. There are a few more i'd definitely use if they ever make one for windows phone.
  • The apps I use the most on my windows phone (in order top to bottom):
    -People Hub
    -Xbox Live
    -YouTube Pro
    -TV gemist (Dutch Media Channel)
    -Pictures Hub
    -LoLCats and Failblog app
    -WiFi/Airplane toggle
    Apps I would like to use more:
    -Calendar (currently two drawbacks, 1. no syncing with outlook calendar. don't use hotmail or google calendar. 2. no adequate integrated week view. 3. no integration of email with calendar for appointments)
    -weather app (too many choices, which to take???)
    -GPS app: currently too expensive with few options for offline maps.
    -Bing search (although shown to be highly useful in the US, WP7 owners outside the US are left with a disappointing baked in functionality with inadequate visual search and without voice search and tell me functionality (let alone language support)).
    -More apps like eBay. Maybe a PayPal app???  (would greatly improve functionality and hopefully I can find pay for downloads. Currently in a bad state in Europe).
    Apps I do not use but have:
    -Bing Search (see above)
    -GPS app: (see above)
    -HTC Hub: (except for the finanacial page, loose apps are better. I like integrated functionaltiy, but this app needs an overhaul. Make the Hub a media consumption app. (add increased weather data and option for local town search per country, add the Weave app functionality, add HTC movies, add a music streaming service, make the marketplace part of the hub. Add the Calendar, Alarm clock and timer function. A two celled tile could perhaps be made 4. The Live tile could be made to show more weather data, and updates in music, blogs, articles, movie clips etc. That's integration Mango style!).
  • These are mobile phones. People have them on the go and they often want their batteries to last until they get home. A lot of Apps can suck the life out of the phones. This is one of the reasons that don´t use apps that often. The other reason is that you get tired of some of them and you end up using only the useful ones.
  • Honestly, Lives Tiles alone wouldn't/shouldn't count any more than, let's say, the HTC Weather Widgets on Android, but I would be inclined to count a third-party weather app as a download.
    As I take a look at my phone, here's what I have installed and a * to indicate what I actually use a few times a month and ** to indicate what I use more than once a week:
    Adobe Reader** (I frequently look at PDF attachments in e-mail)
    Amazon Mobile*
    Facebook** (I check friend requests and message)
    Flashlight (HTC)** (At least twice a day for one reason or other)
    Garmin StreetPilot
    Network Tools
    Pictures Lab*
    SimpiRSS* (Really thought I would use it more)
    WeatherLive** (Live Tile Only)
    WPCentral* (Really thought I would use it more)
    Of these, FlashLight and WeatherLive I could *never* give up, and I wish they were baked into the OS. Adobe Reader and SkyDrive, I couldn't live without either. If Microsoft continues to include deeper Facebook integration so I didn't need the app, that would be awesome, same with Pictures Lab, but neither are "required" apps for me.
    Other than those, I have found I hate reading news on my phone (SimpiRSS and WPCentral). The apps are GREAT, but I just don't like reading long articles on my phone.
    The rest, well, I only use once or twice, and I really could just use their websites as easily.
  • @the_Enlightened - Love that comment :-D
  • WPCentral and PocketTech featuring Paul Thurrott are my most used apps.
  • I'm sorry, but to be honest I have to dissent from most of the other comments. I love a lot of things about my Windows phone, but the lack of apps is a serious drawback. It's not the quantity that matters. The problem is that a lot of the best, most useful apps are not available for Windows phone. The retailers and financial institutions that I do business with have iPhone and Android apps, but no WP7. And we know about Pandora. . . If you think this is not driving away a lot of potential customers, you are in denial. I don't understand why Microsoft with all of its resources is letting this happen. It would be a shame if this beautiful product failed.
  • I have about 300 apps on my iPhone and about 70 on my Windows Phone. I use about 10 of those daily, but most of the remaining ones are for occasional use - for example I have an app for Heathrow airport which I use 3-4 times a year, it does not mean I don't need it!
    In fact apps are the main reason I still have an iPhone (fantastic camera is another): Grindr, Skype, Words with Friends, Account Tracker, Instagram, Photosynth, Netflix, Zinio, Instapaper, Lingvo, Peggle, Tiny Wings, Angry Birds Seasons/Rio - I cannot imagine using Windows Phone as my main phone without those.
    And also, if you are using Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to any serious degree - dedicated app is a requirement even on Windows Phone.
  • Too true, I think WP7 guys are becoming too much of some fanboys and looking for any edge, the OS is great, lack of quality apps is a shortcoming, don't try to turn it into a strength, the study makes sense, just don't take it the distance like most studies...
  • Most of the services those apps support (including Grindr) are also on WP. You could ditch your iPhone tomorrow and not lose a thing.
  • the research is looking at statistics but ignoring the idea that a lot of people entertain, the idea that they just want it available to them, to know that at anytime the may need a particular app then there may be an app for that, I guess the fear with a low app ecosystem is the possibility that there just might not be an app for that (whatever that may be)
  • Well one thing I use as an app is Twitter as I can't figure out how to reply to multiple users via baked in twitter! Everytime a friend tweets a few of us i hit reply and its only his username that's added to the reply. Very annoying!
  • But back on topic! I only use a handful of apps and they are used via a live tile. Best thing since sliced bread. Really is a glance and go OS!
  • Users may not use a lot of Apps, but unfortunately the quantity and depth of quality are selling points. I have all the Apps I need, but someone else going into a store is going to be sold on Android or iOS becuz the salesperson will use the quantity/depth sales point to get a sale. Some users wont care, but others will. Some, like me, just like the comfort of knowing i can get an App for something whenever i want versus WP7 missing one here and one there. We'll get there but I'm afraid Scoble is partly correct.
  • I use a handful regularly, honestly. Wife uses less than I do. How many vs how good is what matters to me. So much is built right in anyway. Apollo should be quite amazing. :)
  • i agree should be fantastic!
  • i have about 40 apps that i have downloaded but realistically this is the list of the apps i use constantly:
    1. WPCentral
    2.Amazon mobile
    3.Bank of America
    5.EBay companion (no kinect yet :P)
    7.add to contacts (i Bing alot)
    8.IMDb (Love Movies)
    10.Bing maps (Gps, Navigation- Since Nokia maps are exclusive :(...)
  • I decided to try WP7 in December.  I then switched back to Android last week...for one day.  I'm sticking with WP7.  There were a few apps that Android has that I currently need--mainly a calendar sync with Lotus Notes for my work and a SunTrust banking app.  IBM said they'll be getting their Lotus Traveler software working with WP7 soon and I can hit my bank on the browser, so no big deal.  I've decided to wait and stay with WP7.
    I use several apps probably 98% of the time (email, calendar, address, Pandora, Pulse, Delta Airlines, ScoreMobile, SkyDrive, banking, and Weather).  The rest I can take or leave. 
  • I find I'm pinning more and more web sites. LifeHacker Gizmodo The Verge CNN AJC (Atlanta newspaper) I hit those every day, usually several times a day.
    Other than that I use a flashlight app daily since I have to get up while it is still dark and my wife is asleep.
    I use Zune hub to listen to podcasts while I commute.
    Next in frequency, I'd say I use the camera.
    I'm increasingly using the Kindle app.
    I have occassionally made phone calls. :-)
    Last game I played much was Plants Vs. Zombies. I played that way too much.
    I played the demo for Angry Birds, but I don't like paying for something multiple times (I bought it on WebOS).
    That is one reason I favor web sites. I don't have to buy a new version if I switch to a different OS.
    In the long run I'd bet on mobile sites vs apps. The capabilities keep increasing and it's possible to get the same experience across OSes. That reduces the sting of owning a phone with fewer apps in its catalog.
    I'd love to see MS expose live tiles to javascript in some form so that mobile sites could leverage them. That would be cool.
    I would also seriously like to see MS do the unthinkable and put a Webkit based browser on the phone. Not going to happen, of course, but it sure would make a nice option. I really haven't found any reason to like IE. Webkit on WebOS, iOS and Android are all preferable to me. Clearly that is personal opinion, so let me be explicit about that before someone jumps in to point out that my opinion is an opinion....
  • If there are apps you want that your providers refuse to provide, you can help change minds by switching providers. For example, after waiting on Citibank to provide a reliable way to access my accounts on WP (their mobile site has big issues), I moved all of my accounts (a sizable sum including investments) to Bank of America. When they asked why, I said it was due to their lack of support for my smartphone. If enough people reward those who invest in the platform and abandon those who don't, you'll see a change.
  • After reading this article I went through and cleaned up my app list. They hit right on the money that there are only a select amount of apps one would need to use daily. Wpcentral is definitely one of those good value daily use apps!
  • I was just making that point regarding iphone users who spent a lot of money on their apps and wouldn't switch to android or windows phone because of that.
    while I think that's true, the reason those users won't switch is because they remember spending all that money. the reality is they probably don't use most of the apps/games they bought anymore. I know that was the case for me with my iphone and android. 
     on my android I installed a lot of apps (mainly because amazon keeps giving away apps for free, hard to resist that deal). I had so many apps installed I had to constantly move apps to the SD card or uninstall apps. but I never really used most of those apps
  • There really is a substitute for about everything, especially now that we have Wordfeud. The point is that apps really don't mean what they used to, now that we're at over 60,000 apps instead of 30,000.
    I wish that was true. The number of quality apps that have speed and feature parity with iOS / Android is still quite small.
  • I think there is a lot of platform optimism going on. When your platform has a lot of low quality bad apps (android) or general lack of apps (wp7), it's a lot easier to trivialize apps in general. I don't know many smartphone users who dont use apps.
    We're all different and while we might only use 10 apps or so, those 10 are likely to be different user to user. A big catalog that covers the bases is a must.
    I love my HTC Titan, but I am unable to take it out vs my iphone consistently because I hate the lack of apps (audible for example. Or the poor quality ports (Rdio for example). I can't IRC because the apps are iffy in quality and MSFT hasn't figured out how to make socks apps useful yet.
    Social media on the phone is very good, but I still use a twitter app and some times even a Facebook one. The built in clients have a lot of missing features.
    I think if MS can work on multitasking a little more and nail app choices a bit better, then they'll have an amazing platform.
  • This is the thing though....You may only use 5 apps, but the 5 apps you use, might be different than the 5 apps I use.  Having a greater number of available apps means there is a better chance that a wider range of apps are available for the needs of different users. 
  • MSFT needs to enhance their built-in social network apps. While ultra convenient, they lack features which occasionally requires the use of a full app: I find that annoying.
  • Quality over quantity. I've got a few key apps on my WP that I use fairly regularly, and that's about it. Truth is, lots of apps are total crap -- something that holds true not only for WP but also for Android, BB, and iOS.