Villing & Company

Marketers Need to Face the Facts: "Apps" are Mostly Games and Social Networking

As of June, consumers spent an average of 81 minutes each day using mobile apps. Stories of first-time app developers striking it rich are everywhere. This has led many marketers to blink dollar signs and flood the app store with "apps" that are little more than mobile-friendly versions of their website. I think this is a mistake.

From the beginning, I’ve been somewhat skeptical of replacing the web with downloadable apps. It always felt paradoxical to me that at the same time as desktop apps are being replaced with online services, the mobile space seems to be moving the other way. I’m not denying that there are some functions that are better served by native apps on both desktop and mobile devices. There are. But it would be a pretty surprising development if mobile apps displaced mobile websites in any significant way.

Reading the recent headlines about mobile statistics, you might think that these intuitions were dead wrong. In June, for instance, the amount of time people spent using mobile apps (81 minutes/day) surpassed the amount of time they spent browsing the mobile web (74 minutes/day). This development, at first blush, seems to directly refute my initial thoughts.

However, after looking at a breakdown of this increasing “mobile app” time, I’m not sure that the marketing relevance of apps for most companies is as strong as the overall numbers imply. Take a look at these breakdowns:

Apps are Games Stats

As you can see from the pie chart, games and social networking apps account for 79% of the daily “mobile app” usage. Another 16% is news and entertainment, leaving only 5% of the “mobile app” time that might be used for other more marketing-related activities--little more than 4 minutes per day. As for app usage by category, the numbers might be a little more promising for certain categories such as banking, retail and dining, but the same trend is quite apparent. This more specific picture doesn’t as clearly support the sort of goldrush mentality that we’ve seen with some marketers.

To be fair, I don’t have a similar breakdown of the mobile website numbers for comparison, but I’m pretty confident that gaming through the mobile browser is nowhere near as popular as we’re seeing on the app side.

It’s still very possible that my intuitions on this will prove to be misguided, but so far I think most of the app-related hype has been misinterpreted by marketers. The mistake is in thinking that people use apps the same way that they browse the web, which doesn’t appear to be true. When impressive numbers are thrown around about app usage, make sure you consider the reality: 95% of that time is gaming, social networking, news and entertainment.

Mobile apps are truly a new, exciting medium, with great potential for some marketers. Companies who’ve built their businesses online or, like Sherwin Williams, are able to provide novel and relevant smartphone utilities are great candidates for mobile apps. However, unlike having a mobile-friendly website, I don’t think that most brick-and-mortar marketers are missing out if they don’t have their own app.



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