Our love for apps, it turns out, is fleeting.
Faster data networks and fancier phones have steered more Americans to embrace the apps software craze born of our fondness for the computer-in-my-pocket. But like other shopping experiences done impulsively, the appeal of instantly downloading the latest apps — prompted by recommendations from neighbors, cousins, blogs and news stories — loses its luster quickly, industry data show.
Of smartphone owners, 68% open only five or fewer apps at least once a week, finds a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Seventeen percent don’t use any apps. About 42% of all U.S. adults have phones with apps, Pew estimates.
“The novelty wears off,” says Pew researcher Kristen Purcell.
But the ones with staying power really do stick. Android phone users spend about 90 minutes a day on their phone, about two-thirds of that on apps, says Monica Bannan of media research firm Nielsen. “We see a very familiar behavior with (iPhone users).”
An app that’s retained by 30% of downloaders is considered “sticky,” says Anindya Datta, founder of Mobilewalla, an app analytic firm.
“We are constantly deleting them. That’s why the number of downloads is a very poor measure of how popular an app is,” he says, estimating 80% to 90% of apps are eventually deleted.
Ghada Elnajjar, a newsletter writer in Atlanta, has downloaded 26 apps since she bought an iPhone 4 in June. She now uses only two regularly: Facebook and MyFitnessPal. “After a while, the fun is not there anymore, and you go back to your phone, e-mail and the browser.”
Many of Elnajjar’s apps are for her two sons, ages 3 and 5. They’ve got app burnout, too. “They went back to their toys.”
Datta says there are about 1 million apps for the four most-popular mobile operating systems, and only 10% have been discovered.
Consumers’ fickle habits aren’t all bad for the industry. Of the top 50 apps, one in five is new every month, says Nielsen. Few had heard of the Scrabble-like Words With Friends two years ago.