We've Got Apps, We Just Don't Use Them

Call it a case of 21st century ‘keeping up with the Jones’s:’ Americans want all the mobile apps their friends, children and neighbors have, but actually use them? Not so much. About 35 percent of cell phone owners now have apps on their phones, but only 24 percent of people actually use them, according to a first-of-its-kind study out this week from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Read on for more of the interesting ways Americans are navigating an increasingly mobile culture.

Not surprisingly, the biggest app users come from Generations X and Y. About 44 percent of users ages 18 to 29 have apps on their phones, and 52 percent have downloaded an app, while only 14 percent of phone owners over age 50 have apps and 11 percent have downloaded.

Rich, young and male were also characteristics of app users, Pew found. About 57 percent of men had apps on their phones, compared to 43 percent of women. About 39 percent of app owners, meanwhile, are college grads, while 36 percent make more than $75,000 per year.

Researchers found that there is still great confusion overall with apps, specifically “over whether the different software that comes preloaded on their phone are ‘apps,’ or whether an app is something that must be purchased separately or downloaded from the Internet.”

While “apps” have technically been around for years, on some devices like the Palm, for instance, it was Apple’s introduction of the App Store and the iPhone two years ago that gave the free or for-pay downloadable programs mass market appeal. The appetite for apps has grown enough that the first-ever “AppNation” conference is being held this week in San Francisco, attended by more than 800 software developers.

The Pew study shows however that, while developers and entrepreneurs see a golden opportunity, actual consumers are still catching up. People are still more interested than using their phones to take pictures, send and receive text messages and access the Internet, the study found.

“An apps culture is clearly emerging among some cell phone users,” Kristin Purcell, Pew’s associate director for research said in a statement. “Still it is clear that this is the early stage of adoption when many cell owners do not know what their phone can do. The apps market seems somewhat ahead of a majority of adult cell phone users.”

The 24 percent of cell phone users actually using their apps aren’t using them to write research papers, either. Game, weather and mapping apps remain the most popular options.

Facebook was the app-of-choice for iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile users, while Android OS users like to know where they’re going, preferring Google Maps, Pandora, YouTube, and Twitter were also app favorites across all mobile systems.

“This is a pretty remarkable tech-adoption story, if you consider that there was no apps culture until two years ago,” said Roger Entner, co-author of the Pew report and Nielsen’s head of research and insights for telecom practice. ” It’s too early to say what this will eventually amount to, but not too early to say that this is an important new part of the technology world of many Americans.”