Apps: Are they worth the ROI?

Thursday - 9/16/2010, 6:01pm EDT

Kristen Purcell, associate director for research, Pew Internet and American Life Project

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It seems like there's an app for everything today. (We know you've all downloaded the Federal News Radio app, right?)

But are people actually using their apps?

It turns out only about 35 percent of Americans have apps on their cell phones and 24 percent actually use their apps, according to a Pew Research Center report, "The Rise of the Apps Culture."

"I think what we're seeing in the app story is the early stages of the classic tech adoption story," said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

Generally, younger people are more likely to use apps. According to the survey, 18- to 29-year-olds make up half of all adult app users.

Agencies interested in developing apps should recognize that app use, for now, is contained to a core group of cell phone users. But that will surely change in the future, with many in the tech industry hailing apps as "the new revolution," Purcell said.

"This exploding apps market ... is a little bit ahead of the average cell phone user at the moment," Purcell said. "[The apps market] will probably catch up and we'll see the use spread to a more diverse audience."

Confusion over app definition

One explanation for the survey showing low app use is linked to people's lack of knowledge about apps. (App is short for a software application for your mobile device.)

"[People] hear the term used so popularly, but if you ask them to define it, they'd be hard pressed to give you a definition," Purcell said.

When asked if a new cell phone came preloaded with apps, one in ten surveyed answered they did not know.

"Some of the activities that adults tell us they're doing on their phones actually use apps, but then people tell us they're not apps users," Purcell said. "So, I think there's some real confusion among consumers about when they are and are not using apps on their phones."

Purcell predicted that app use will rise as people become more familiar with the ways they can use apps. Ultimately, people will understand how to utilize apps to meet their personal needs, she said.

With the explosion of the use of the Internet, the amount of information people could access was "chaotic," Purcell said. She said the trend now is toward "customization and filtering." In that way, apps can be very useful.

"Apps are a way people can customize content, they can filter content and they can get on their device only those things that are really meaningful to them," Purcell said.

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The author of this post is Jolie Lee. Email Jolie at jlee@federalnewsradio.com.