May 15, 2012

Downloading Apps for Children

Parents are enthusiastic downloaders of all kinds of apps, particularly apps for children.

Back in August of 2011, the Pew Internet Project found that three-quarters of tablet owners and 38% of cell owners have downloaded apps to their device. We also found that parents are more likely than non-parents to download apps of any kind: overall, 84% of parents with tablets download apps to their tablet (compared with 69% of non-parent tablet owners), and nearly half of parents with cell phones (48%) download apps to their mobile phone (compared with one third of non-parents).

In addition to their high levels of app consumption, many of these parents are downloading apps for use by children. As part of a series of questions about the types of apps that cell phone and tablet owners have on their devices, we asked all adult app users if they had ever downloaded an app to their cell phone or tablet computer for use by a child—this includes apps that an adult and child might use together, as well as apps that the child might use on his or her own—and found that 34% of adults had done so. Although 16% of non-parent apps users had downloaded an app for use by a child, nearly six in ten app-using parents (57%) had done so. Women and adults in mid-life (30-49) were also very likely to download apps for children.

Our data does not show differences by race, ethnicity or income in downloading apps for children. However, recent work done by Common Sense Media suggests that there may be what they term an “app gap,” where higher-income families (47%) are more likely to download apps and use them with their children than lower income families (14%). The Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America report suggests this is partly due to lower levels of  smartphone and tablet ownership among poorer families, but also because low-income parents are less likely to even know what apps are.

When asked what types of kids’ apps they typically seek out, the largest group of these kids’ app downloaders (46%) said the apps they downloaded were mostly for entertainment. Three in ten (31%) said that they mostly downloaded apps that were oriented around learning or education, and one in five (22%) volunteered that they tended to download apps for both education and entertainment. Interestingly, non-parents were slightly more likely than parents to say that they mostly seek out entertainment-oriented children’s apps.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center recently did an analysis of the top paid apps available in the education section of the iTunes store. They found that the vast majority (80%) of educational apps are for children—and within that group, the bulk of the apps are aimed at pre-school or elementary aged children and cover general learning goals. This report, iLearn II, is a follow up to a similar analysis, iLearn, done in 2009.