Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How many Mobile apps do you have on your phone?

The ME Mobile Entertainment guide reported last week that the average SmartPhone user has 27 App installed on their phone - (see article). This is based on Nielsen’s latest Apps playbook report on an August survey of 4,000 US mobile subscribers. The good news is that this number is up from 22 the year before – an increase of 25%. The bad news is that during the same time, the number of available applications have skyrocketed. Depending on phone type, there are over 200,000 iPhone apps and over 40,000 Android apps advertised. It seems like out of this overwhelming supply, only a miniscule number actually end up on actual phones. Even if you take the number of Smart Phones (50 million) into account – the total number of installed apps remains relatively low with the average app only installed on 26,000 phones – [26 apps/phone * 50 million phones / 50,000 average available apps]. Since big apps like Facebook, Weather Channel, Google Maps and Pandor have huge penetration, the actual average app seems to be installed on 10,000 phones or less. The notion of ‘the long tail’ was popular some years back – this is really a long long tail! What is going on?

It seems like the average user downloads a relatively limited set of apps on their phones and only gradually add more, in this case on average five more/year. The current average of 27 easily encompasses the 18 categories (games, weather, maps/search, social networking etc.) described in the study + a couple of more. This represents one dominant app in each category and a couple of new interesting ones as they come along. It also no doubt represents special unique interests, niche apps that appeal to a specific individual. Using these 27 apps on a regular basis involves quite a bit of time and there is most likely natural limit to how many apps people will ever have on their phones. But our guess is also that today’s phone user interfaces have a lot to do with how many apps people have and use. Why is that?

27 icons fill between two and three pages on today’s smart-phone matrix User Interfaces. Adding more apps means more pages and sooner or later the flipping of pages to find the app you are looking for is simply a bad User Experience. Most UIs are also disorganized with icons placed in random order and while it is possible to change placements, this is not necessarily intuitive, again a bad User Experience. Between these inherent limitations of the UIs and the fact that 20-30 apps cover the 18 categories users are looking for, it is unlikely that we will see a dramatic increase, like a doubling, of the number of Apps the average users have. In order to move this number up substantially, we need a much better User Experience in the form of a new User Interface!

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