Think You Use Lots of Apps? You Probably Only Really Use 3

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Stephen Lam/Getty Images

You may have lots of mobile apps installed on your smartphone and spend a lot of time using them. The latest data backs you up on that; according to comScore’s latest mobile apps report, you keep spending more and more time in the apps you have installed on your smartphone. But the same report holds that while you’re spending an increasing amount of time using apps, you most likely only routinely use three of the apps you have installed on your phone — much fewer than you probably think if you have lots of apps installed on your phone.

You’re spending more time in apps

Let’s start at the beginning. The report finds that the amount of time we spend in apps continues to grow. Mobile app usage, in terms of total minutes, is up 90% since 2013, and apps are quickly approaching the milestone of constituting half of the time we spend with digital media. In fact, apps already account for the “vast majority” of the total time we spend on our mobile devices.

ComScore notes that mobile apps have driven most of the growth in digital media usage over the past two years, and comScore notes that app usage is driven heavily by millennials on smartphones and older generations on tablets. Users between ages 18 and 24 spend 90.6 hours in smartphone apps on a monthly basis, compared with 82.5 hours for users between 25 and 34, 73.1 hours for users between 35 and 44, and progressively fewer hours in older age brackets.

If you own both a tablet and a smartphone, the way you use apps on your devices likely varies significantly. People spend more time in smartphone apps than in tablet apps, not only because tablet app engagement is significantly lower, but also because tablets’ larger screens make for better web browsing than on smartphones, and there are a smaller number of apps available for tablets versus smartphones.

Nonetheless, mobile apps in general are reaching large audiences — numbering 5 million, 10 million, or 20 million — in larger numbers. And people use the App Store, recommendations from family and friends, reviews on websites and social networks, and even ads to discover new apps to download.

But you’re really only using a few favorite apps

Interestingly, though, the number of apps that people actually use regularly is limited, probably more limited than you’d think, as is the number of apps that can make an appearance on the home screen of a user’s phone. Three out of four users keep their most-used apps on the home screen and fully in view (i.e., accessible by a single tap and not hidden in a folder).

As noted by Quartz’s Dan Frommer, comScore’s report also reveals that most of our attention is concentrated on a few top apps. The average American spends 50% of his or her app time in the most-used app — the number rises to almost 60% on tablets — and almost 80% in his or her top three apps — or 87% for tablet users. Which means that while you think you’re using a lot of apps, you’re likely spending most of your time in the same few apps.

ComScore notes that Facebook is a top-three app for almost 80% of users, and comes in at No. 1 for almost half of them. It also makes an appearance on almost half of users’ smartphone home screens. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the top six apps, and eight of the top nine apps, are owned by Facebook or Google. Apps that occupy valuable home screen real estate for large numbers of users tend to get more traffic than those that don’t, creating what comScore describes as a “chicken-and-egg phenomenon.”

Further, habits are revealed as powerful drivers of app usage, particularly when they relate to daily activities like getting your morning dose of caffeine at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. Apps from Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s leverage users’ frequent visits to the brands’ stores to increase usage and engagement with coupons and savings features. Tinder, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and MapMyFitness also leverage habits to increase usage, and Uber and Lyft benefit when users make a habit of using ride-sharing services to get around the cities where they live or travel.

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