Wireless Intelligence recently commissioned a study to help understand how smartphone users are interacting with mobile apps. The aim was to discover how mobile apps usage varied across smartphone platforms and also how apps, as compared to generic phone features, are starting to change user behaviour. The study was based on an analysis of usage across the four main smartphone platforms (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Symbian) in the US and UK during January 2011.

The study uses the concept of ‘face time’ to measure how long users actively engage with various smartphone features. It found that apps accounted for an average of 667 minutes of face time per user per month, only slightly less than the time spent on messaging (671 minutes), and well ahead of both voice calling (531 minutes) and web browsing (422 minutes). This means, for example, that smartphone users are spending 37 percent less time surfing the web using a mobile browser than using apps.

However, while apps potentially threaten the mobile operators’ current position at the heart of the mobile value chain, the study found that the number of apps actually being used is still relatively low. The average smartphone user in the study added just 2.5 new apps per month (net), while 37 percent of users added no new apps at all. Another finding was that most smartphone face time related to apps and features already present on the device platform (voice, messaging, browsing etc.) rather than the so-called ‘add-on’ apps – features that the device-maker, operator or user has installed on top of the OS. Add-on apps accounted for 20 percent of face time minutes, but a slightly greater proportion of smartphone data traffic (30 percent).

iPhone users generated the most data traffic, consuming 422MB per user per month – over 200 percent more than Android users (133MB) and compared to just 36MB via BlackBerry and 34MB via Symbian. iPhone users also led the way in the proportion of face time dedicated to add-on apps at 44 percent, compared to 37 percent for Android, 24 percent for Symbian and 18 percent for BlackBerry. The study found that iPhone and Android users access 15 different apps per month on average, almost twice as many as BlackBerry and Symbian users, a trend attributed to the greater popularity of the iPhone and Android app stores.

Social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) was the most popular apps category, accounting for 29 percent of apps face time (and likely to be significantly higher if browser-based social-networking is taken into account). Gaming and multimedia accounted for 22 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Apps in these latter categories accounted for a disproportionately higher amount of face time. The study found, for example, that less than half (45 percent) of smartphone users play games on a monthly basis but these users spend 295 minutes per month on gaming.

The most installed add-on apps are YouTube (#1), Facebook (#2) and Quickoffice (#3), which top the list due to them being preinstalled on many device platforms. However, in terms of active monthly users, the top three was slightly different: Facebook (#1), YouTube (#2) and Twitter (#3), reflecting the high levels of social networking face time.

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