Almost half of America is done with smartphone apps, but some people can’t get enough

Glued to the phone.
Glued to the phone.
Image: Reuters/Tomas Bravo
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Time spent within smartphone apps is still climbing upwards and Americans are once again finding new intriguing offerings from app publishers. But the real story in the app economy in 2015 was a group of super-users.

Almost half of American smartphone users downloaded zero apps per month in 2015, according to comScore’s 2016 US Mobile App Report. That was a big improvement from the 65.5% of Americans who found nothing worthy of a download on a monthly basis the year before. Users also started spreading their time around a bit more: the average American spent 45% of their time in their most-used app—this figure was 50% in 2014. People dedicated three-quarters of their time to the top three apps, compared to 80% a year ago. The shift away from these leading apps may have contributed to some downloads.

But the bigger impact to the app economy is more likely coming from a group of enthusiasts—the 13% of people who downloaded 5 or more apps each month in 2015—that “[account] for more than half of all download activity in a given month,” the report states. Only about 7% downloaded at that frequency in 2014.

These avid downloaders likely fit into one or more of these profiles:

  • 18-44 years old males: Male millennials are typically early technology adopters. Since they are already more invested in technology, they’re likelier to experiment with new apps. 
  • Gaming enthusiasts: ”People who are most likely to be daily mobile gamers are amongst the heaviest app downloaders,” Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at comScore, told Quartz. They are presumably downloading new games as they crop up, according to Lipsman. He also says they’re significantly more likely to transition from free to paid apps and make in-app purchases. (According to research, the biggest mobile gamers are our moms, who’re busy with Candy Crush. However, the gamers in this case are likely the millennial men who veer toward paid apps like Clash of the Clans.)
  • Hispanics: In the US, Hispanics are doubly smartphone dependent, compared to whites. That means they may conduct tasks that others do on a desktop computer through their phones. “If you’re running more of your life through your phone, there’s probably a need for more utility,” Lipsman explained why this community has many heavy app users. The report also notes that most people who go on monthly downloading sprees also hail from urban cities—Houston, San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles—where large hispanic communities live.

As users spend less time in their favorite apps, it seems there may be an opportunity for others to grab some attention. However, Lipsman previously called breakthroughs like Snapchat “the exceptions rather than the rule.” Most new entrants will struggle to carve a space where apps controlled by Facebook and Google dominate.

Like apps were touted to kill the web, chatbots are expected to put an end to the app era in the near future. And while there are serious signs of strain–downloads from top US app publishers were down 20% in June this year— freak hits like Pokémon Go will keep reeling in a mass of users.