November 2, 2011

Half of Adult Cell Phone Owners Have Apps on Their Phones

The share of adult cell phone owners who have downloaded an app nearly doubled in the past two years –from 22% in September 2009 to 38% in August 2011 – according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  When adults whose phones came preloaded with apps are also accounted for, fully half of U.S. adult cell phone owners (50%) now have apps on their phones. In May 2010, that figure stood at 43%. 

The survey also finds that among the 10% of adults who currently own a tablet computer, three-quarters (75%) report downloading apps to their tablet. This translates to 8% of all U.S. adults.   

These findings are from a survey conducted from July 25-August 26 among 2,260 adults ages 18 and over, including surveys in English and Spanish and on both landline and cell phones. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Other key findings:

  • The most commonly downloaded apps are those that provide regular updates about everyday information such as news, weather, sports, or stocks (74% of downloaders)
  • Also popular are apps that help people communicate with friends and family (67%) and apps that help the user learn about something in which they are interested (64%) 

“While mobile apps are a fairly new approach to accessing online content, the main functions they fill for users are the same we’ve seen with previous technologies—namely information gathering and communication,” notes Kristen Purcell, author of the report and Associate Director for Research at Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  “It’s too early to know if, by providing instant, direct connections to information, apps are a game changer. While they are a significant change from using search engines and web browsers, the basic functions apps fill are not revolutionary.”

As apps gain popularity, the demographic profile of downloaders has not changed markedly.  App downloading remains concentrated among younger, more affluent and highly educated adults, as well as those living in urban and suburban areas.  “As we’ve seen with almost all new internet technologies over the past decade, apps have gained a foothold in a fairly concentrated segment of adults, and will likely spread from there to a more diverse population,” Purcell explains. “We do see a core group of app ‘power users,’ but right now most adults use only a handful of apps, if any, on a regular basis. And the portion who pay for apps has not increased over the past year.”