App Usage: Here We Are Now, Entertain Us


The recent Nielsen report on app usage shows in stark and gory detail the challenge that app makers face.  While people are spending 60% more time with their apps over the past two years (37 hours a month in 2014 vs 23 hours a month in 2102), the number of apps they spend time with has not budged.

There’s no shortage of opportunity of course. The smartphone device market has grown from 700 million shipped to 1.2 billion shipped since 2012.  Presuming that people keep their phones on average for 2 years, that means that the number of smartphones in the wild ready for your app is actually much larger, somewhere along the lines of 2.2 billion.

With 2.7 million apps available between iOS and Android (up from 1.3 million two years ago) the competition for downloads is fierce.

But, the scary thing is this: if people use less than 27 apps on a regular basis the battle is beyond traditional butts-in-seats marketing.  It’s critical to keep an eye on ongoing usage, to invest in delivering a kind of value that people will turn to regularly, will make part of their day-to-day activity. If your marketing team is reporting on downloads and ignoring ongoing usage, it’s probably time for your marketing team to hone their analytics skills.

Apps people use and when they use them
LoyaltyOne CEO Bryan Pearson sums it up nicely in the Fast Company article “Essential Tips for Creating Apps that People Will Actually Use.” Says he: “The app needs to be entertaining and deliver games, music, and other fun diversions; or it should be utility-based and offer services such as news, education, weather, and maps.”

In fact, the Nielsen/Business Insider data reports that about a third of the 37 hours a month spent with apps goes to the entertainment category.  It’s a bit of a massive category.  But, look at what Emily Alford of ClickZ reports based on some “situational usage” research from Nielsen.  Of 14 reasons people say they use apps, the vast majority of time can be attributed to being in some sort of stand-by mode.  Whether it’s “While I’m by myself” or “To kill time,” it isn’t until halfway down the list that some sort of utility emerges.


Thus, games and, of course, Facebook are prime apps for people who are waiting for something to happen.

When it comes to the category that I find most compelling — News apps — usage occurs throughout the day but there is a definite prime time between 7am and 8 am.  According to research by Localytics, people wake up to News, Weather, and Travel Apps (peak usage 7am to 8am), spend the day with Business, Finance, and Music Apps, and spend the evening and night — all the way until 5am — with Entertainment and Social Media apps.



Remember, if you have broad, international distribution it’s always prime-time somewhere.

If you are considering getting into the app game or if you already have products on the market, remember this: of all the improbabilities in the course of creating an app, getting people to use your app is the biggest hurdle of them all.