It doesn’t take much to realise the ubiquity of the smartphone. Just step outside, or look around your group of friends, or look at your own hand – you’re probably holding one right now. You can run your whole life from your phone, from banking to booking holidays to replying to emails to watching videos of baby pandas. All the most vital aspects of modern life are in your pocket.
It seems like something of a formality, then, for a recent survey to reveal that mobile apps account for the majority of our time spent using digital media. 52% of our online activity takes place through apps, and if you include mobile browsing that figure jumps to 60%. Desktop-based digital media consumption thus accounts for only 40% for our online lives.
Also somewhat notably, while people are consuming more digital media than ever (a 24% increase on last year) that media is coming from fewer and fewer sources. 42% of all app time on smartphones takes place in the user’s most used app – which in most cases means Facebook, especially with those aged 25-34 who spend 18.5% of their time on apps on the social network. Three out of every four minutes of app usage takes place on one of the user’s top four apps.
What the data also shows, interestingly, is that there is a dedicated base of app power users: 7% of smartphone users account for almost half of all download activity in a given month. Most users, however, spend their time on a few main apps. Discounting functional apps like Google Maps and Gmail, Facebook is by far the most used followed by YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. Despite all the fuss made over exciting new social networks, amongst the older generation there is a lean towards old stalwarts: Words With Friends and Solitaire both beat out Pinterest in the 55+ demographic.
The main takeaway from all this, though, is that social networking, and the internet in general, is going mobile at a far more rapid pace than anyone really seems to be anticipating. Just as ten years ago the idea that someone would move into a new house and not bother to install a landline phone would seem ridiculous, perhaps a decade from now the desktop computer will be seen as an anachronism in comparison to the ease and portability of smartphones and tablets. Particularly with the gradual shift of data off local servers and into the cloud – the placing of the iCloud app as the 11th most used app reinforces this – means that the additional memory which a PC provides is of less and less relevance.
What is clear, from the fact that social media takes up a quarter of all time spent on mobile apps, is that the increase in mobile usage is driven by a desire for connectivity as much as for convenience. Especially among the 18-24 demographic, where all but three of the top ten apps by use are social (the three exceptions being Pandora Radio, Netflix, and iFunny – the latter of which is arguably at least partly social), it is clear that social networking and the app market make for perfect, and lucrative, bedfellows.