How are Apps Dominating Mobile Usage?

On April 1st, 2014, analytics firm Flurry released a report on how time is spent on mobile devices.


This data is interesting for a number of reasons;

  1. Apps are dominating the mobile usage. As of 2014, Internet browsers are used for only 14% of the time. 86% of the time, mobile users are using apps.
  2. App dominance is increasing. In 2013, Internet browsers were used for 20% of the time compared to 14% in 2014.
  3. Facebook and other social activities constitute 28% of usage time. This compares to 32% for gaming.
  4. Other usages are fragmented with 4% for YouTube (watching video), 4% for productivity, 3% for news.

What does this all mean? Here are a few thoughts of mine.

Why did apps dominate mobile usage?

Both mobile apps and the mobile web have their pros and cons. Although it’s easy to point out the advantages that apps have and to attribute success to these, we have to remember that a lot of people predicted that HTML5 would ultimately win. There are arguments for both sides and hence it’s very difficult to understand what the ultimate driver of success was.

Why is this important? Why do we have to analyze what has already happened?

I have a sense that the success of apps on mobile might affect how we use desktop computers. It is not entirely unthinkable that we might see a resurgence of apps on the desktop. By analyzing how apps dominated mobile usage, we might gain insight on whether this is truly likely.

How can Microsoft fix the ecosystem gap

The smartphone market is dominated by Android and iPhone and it is increasing difficult for new entrants to gain a foothold in the market. Windows Phone is reported to be gaining market share in the low-end, but we want to know whether it can possibly grow to be a significant player.

The problem is the ecosystem. Android and iPhone both have a large number of apps and services. Windows Phone lags in this regard and this is considered the reason why it doesn’t stand a chance.

Let’s look at this by category. Looking a social networks, the big ones are cross platform. Facebook, WhatsApp, LINE, Instagram, Pinterest and many others have native apps for Windows phone. Windows Phone no longer lags here.

In games, Windows Phone lags a lot. Popular games like Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga are not yet available.

In the other categories, it is possible that Windows Phone still is vastly inferior in the number of apps available. However, this probably is not very much of an issue. They aren’t an vital part of the smartphone experience.

If Microsoft can convince major game developers to create Windows Phone versions, then it can mostly fix the platform gap.

Usage itself is different from desktops

Although I don’t have data available for desktop computers, I imagine that it would be very different from Flurry’s data. Instead of games, we would see a lot of productivity apps (mostly MS-Office) being used. Email applications would also be huge.

It’s not a simple case of apps replacing the web. It’s that these devices are fulfilling a different purpose. Hence there is no guarantee that companies with a big presence on the desktop web will ultimately succeed on mobile.

For example, Gmail has a large presence on the desktop web and is also included in Android as a part of Google Play. It maintains a large market share of email on mobile devices. It doesn’t really matter though because the preferred messaging tool on mobile is not email. Instead, the social messaging platforms dominate.

Likewise, Google maintains a large market share for mobile web search. It doesn’t matter because people don’t do web search on their mobile devices.

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