Primetime: ComScore Report May Show That Apps Have Peaked

August 28, 2017 - Written By Daniel Golightly

ComScore’s 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report has been released and, as always, it shows several interesting trends in the usage of apps across age demographics and categories. Although there is a lot of information in the report in general, it seems to suggest that apps are hitting a kind of peak. That’s despite that apps appear to be the most frequently used way to both deliver and consume digital content and media, with apps beating out mobile web usage 87 percent to 13 percent. However, smartphone users’ top 10 favorite applications account for 95 percent of their activity and the majority of app usage doesn’t fall into categories of entertainment, ComScore sees the trend as a sign that apps have effectively peaked off. Moreover, users over the age of 34 appear to be more likely to remove apps from their phones and the report suggests that apps, in general, are being downloaded less frequently. Meanwhile, Millennials – which includes people ages 18 to 34 – are showing to be the most engaging group of users and are also the most dependent on applications despite that apparent peak.

It’s important to note, however, that although digital media consumption only takes place through smartphone applications half of the time, usage through either tablets or handsets combined accounts for a total of 66 percent of the consumption with web usage included. Following that shift, a large part of the conclusion regarding the above-mentioned peak may be attributable to a greater degree of efficiency in how apps are downloaded and used. For example, more than 80 percent of users will intentionally move applications to their home screen, based on the need to access the app quickly and how often they access the app. A large majority of Millennials, in particular, have a fewer number of home screens overall and the number of items they have on their home screens is trending down.

That isn’t likely an overly difficult task for the majority of users since most users only access 20 apps or less per month, but that number has a tendency to increase as age lowers. The majority of users, at 67 percent, still leave those apps on the home screen individually, but there has been a year-over-year 3 point uptick in the number of users organizing their apps into folders either on the home screen or on a secondary screen such as their app drawer. Moreover, an increasing number of millennials position applications and folders on their home screen with consideration for how easy it is to reach the application with their thumb. That is directly correlated to the difference between how those in different age groups hold their devices, with older users tending to use both hands more often than millennials.

In the meantime, the increasing efficiency of users’ home screens could also be contributing to another trend. The majority of smartphone users are simply not interested in downloading new apps every month. In fact, the average number of app downloads per month averaging out to two comes mostly down to the trend among younger audiences in the Millennials category, whose level of interest in new applications far exceeds that of older audiences. For example, respondents in ComScore’s study showed that 70 percent of millennials are actively seeking “new and interesting” applications, as compared to just 37 percent in the 35 to 54-year-old demographic. That drops to 22 percent for respondents aged 55 and older. The trend continues across related questions regarding whether or not those questioned would like to do a lot more with applications and whether or not they get excited about new apps. Millennials are also far more likely to pay for a mobile app and 1 out of every five respondents downloads an average of at least one paid app every month. Meanwhile, 66 percent of respondents aged 35 to 54 years old haven’t purchased apps over the last year and that goes up to 80 percent for the 55+ demographic. More than half of all users, 51 percent – don’t download any new applications per month.

A similar trend follows for in-app purchases as well, with the numbers for older audiences coming down to 58 percent and 72 percent, respectively, with regard to those who make no in-app purchases over the course of a year. 50 percent of millennials, conversely, admit to making 5 or more in-app purchases per year. Taking a deeper look at the purchase and download trends, comScore discovered that the purchasing trend also translates to app downloads versus app uninstalls. While millennials continue to download more apps more often than they delete or uninstall them, the other age groups are trending down. Meanwhile, the reasons for deleting apps are consistent across age groups and are directly related to how often the app is used, whether or not the user needs to free up space or declutter, and whether the user’s level of interest in the app has changed or gone down. With that said, that isn’t the case for the aesthetic appeal of app logos, which was another reason users will uninstall applications. As many as 21 percent of millennials will remove an app from their device on that basis alone, while that number drops for 35 to 54-year-olds and those in the 55+ demographic to 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Beyond that, Millennials, in particular, appear to have a difficult time getting off of their devices. As many as 76 percent asked claimed that their smartphone would be “useless” without apps, while 74 percent want to pull out their device and open an app the moment they get bored. That’s compared to 51 percent and 49 percent, respectively, for those between the ages of 35 and 54. For users 55 and older the numbers drop to 39 percent who feel a lack of apps would render their device useless and 26 percent who reach for their smartphones when they are bored. Furthermore, 63 percent of millennials feel the need to immediately check notifications, as compared to 36 percent in the 35 to 54 age range and 26 percent of those in the 55 or older demographic. Ironically, millennials are also simultaneously more annoyed by getting too many notifications and more likely than other groups to allow push notifications from apps.

All of the fastest growing apps have been on the market from 2015. The fastest growing apps are letgo and Bitmoji, with 2,078 percent and 1,224 percent growth respectively. Musical.ly follows behind and, despite all of the other apps having a 2-month head start, managed to grow by 630 percent. Following that are Venmo (441 percent), Lyft (282 percent), Wish (171 percent), OfferUp (166 percent), Waze (127 percent), Uber (99 percent), and WhatsApp (91 percent. Each of the apps that are growing the fastest, comScore notes, has at least some social aspect to it but most of the apps serve general purposes. That, in combination with the applications’ ages, could show a trend away from innovation in the form of new applications.

There’s really no way of telling whether or not these trends will continue and, at least among Millennials, there is still a drive to gain more functionality through applications and a desire to find new applications. They are also increasingly dependent on applications for communication and interaction with the world around themselves. That could lead to further innovations in the market in the future, but doesn’t necessarily negate the trends noted in ComScore’s analysis.