Pew: Half of Adult Cell Phone Owners Have Apps on Their Phones 1

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), 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 departure from search engines and web browsers, the basic needs apps meet 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.”

The full report is available at:



One thought on “Pew: Half of Adult Cell Phone Owners Have Apps on Their Phones

  • Michael Perry

    This really makes me think about the ability of a library to develop their own app. I know of a few out there but I really haven’t explored it that much. There was a line of thought before about library websites and how to make them a primary starting point for people. I really don’t think that’s a realistic goal, nothing is going to overtake the ubiquitous Google (or similar) home or start page. I do think if a library was able to develop an app with features like a mobile version of the catalog (I would have loved this in either undergrad or grad school), events, and perhaps some IM type reference service you would be able to get a great deal of you user base to buy in. I’ve found more and more, that if the site isn’t in my RSS or Twitter feeds, I probably will never go there. The major exception to that is sites that have developed great mobile apps. I tend to use these more than the website proper. I’ve really become interested in mobile app development and have set up all of the software for developing an android app. Given my next to non-existent background in java, it has been a really learning experience and while I haven’t made a ton of progress, I do know a lot more about the process than when I began.

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