35% of U.S. adults have apps on their phone, but only 24% actually use them 

11% of cell users do not know if they have apps or not

WASHINGTON, DC – Some 35% of U.S. adults have software applications or “apps” on their phones, yet only 24% of adults use those apps.  Many adults who have apps on their phones, particularly older adults, do not use them, and 11% of cell owners are not sure if their phone is equipped with apps.

Among cell phone owners, 29% have downloaded apps to their phone and 13% have paid to download apps.

These findings come in a report that uses two surveys: a nationwide telephone survey conducted by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, and a survey of recent apps downloaders by The Nielsen Company that provides an extensive snapshot of this new subset of technology users.

“An apps culture is clearly emerging among some cell phone users, particularly men and young adults,” said Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project.  “Still, it is clear that this is the early stage of adoption when many cell owners do not know what their phone can do.  The apps market seems somewhat ahead of a majority of adult cell phone users.”

Some of the other main findings in the new Pew Internet national phone survey:

  • 82% of American adults have cell phones. The apps material in this report covers this group.
  • 29% of adult cell phone users have downloaded an app to their phone, including 13% who have paid to download an app.  In addition, 38% of adult cell phone users have purchased a phone with pre-loaded apps.  That comes to 43% of cell owners who have apps on their phones and 23% of cell owners have both pre-loaded and downloaded apps on their cell phones.
  • 11% of cell owners do not know if they have apps on their phones or not. Older cell users are more likely not to know some of their phone’s capabilities.
  • 29% of cell owners say they have used some of the apps on their phones. Yet apps use does not rank at the top of non-voice cell phone activities people use on the handhelds. More than seven in ten cell owners take pictures on their phones (76%) and use their phones to send/receive text messages (72%). 
  • Among cell phone users with apps, the average adult has 18 apps on his or her phone. Some 18% of cell phone users with apps on their phones do not know how many they have.
  • 29% of adult cell phone users have download apps. As with the apps-using population as a whole, downloaders are younger, more educated, and disproportionately male when compared with the total U.S. adult population.
  • 47% of apps downloaders have paid for an app, with the remainder saying they only download apps that are free. This means that one in eight adult cell phone users (13%) has paid to download an app, with most paying less than $3.
  • Cell phone screen real estate is valuable for some users. Majorities of apps users say they organize their apps so that the most frequently used are easily accessible (59%), and that they delete apps from their phones that are not useful or helpful (56%).

Apps users are disproportionately male, young, educated and affluent. 

  • Apps users are mostly male (57% male v. 43% female), and are more likely than other adults and other cell phone users to be college graduates (39%) and to have incomes of $75,000 or more (36%).
  • 18-29 year-olds make up only 23% of the total U.S. adult population but constitute almost half (44%) of the apps using population.  In contrast, while 41% of the adult population is age 50 and older, that age group makes up just 14% of apps users.
  • Overall, 35% of adult male cell phone users have downloaded an app, compared with just 24% of adult female cell phone users. 
  • 52% of 18-29 year-old cell users have downloaded an app, but that figure drops to 31% among 30-49 year-olds and 11% among cell users age 50 and older. 
  • Young adults download more frequently and have more apps on their phones.  While 10% of adult cell phone users report downloading an app in the past week, that figure doubles to 20% among cell users under age 30.  The mean number of apps for adults under 30 is 22.  

The Pew Internet telephone survey of 2,252 U.S. adults age 18 and older was conducted by Princeton Survey Research International between April 29 and May 30, 2010.  The sample included 1,917 adult cell phone users, 744 of whom were contacted on their cell phones.  The margin of error is +/- 2.4 percentage points for results based on the total sample of adults, and +/- 2.7 percentage points for results based on cell phone users.

“This is a pretty remarkable tech-adoption story, if you consider that there was no apps culture until two years ago,” said Roger Entner, co-author of the report and Senior Vice President and Head of Research and Insights for Telecom Practice at Nielsen. “Every metric we capture shows a widening embrace of all kinds of apps by a widening population. It’s too early to say what this will eventually amount to, but not too early to say that this is an important new part of the technology world of many Americans.”

The Nielsen data are from an analysis of 3,962 adults (age 18+) gathered in the December 2009 Apps Playbook, an online, self-administered non-probability sample of apps downloaders originally identified in Nielsen’s Mobile Insights survey of cell phone subscribers identified through online panels. 

Among the Nielsen sample, games were the most popular apps, followed by music, food/entertainment, news/weather, social networking, and maps/navigation.

  • Game apps were the most downloaded apps overall in terms of both volume and the percent of adults in the sample who had downloaded them.
  • In terms of actual apps use, six in ten downloaders in the Nielsen sample (60%) had used a game app in the past 30 days, and roughly half had used a news/weather app (52%), a map/navigation app (51%), or a social networking app (47%) in that same timeframe.

There are some notable differences among the Nielsen recent downloader sample in terms of which apps they favor and how frequently they use them. For instance:

  • Women in the sample were more likely than men to have used a social networking app in the past 30 days (53% v. 42%).
  • The women were also more likely than the men to have a used a game app in the past 30 days (63% v. 58%), while the men were more likely to have used a productivity app (29% v. 21%) or a banking/finance app (31% v. 25%).
  • Whites (53%) and Hispanics (47%) in the sample were more likely than African-Americans (36%) to have used a map/navigation/search app in the month prior to the survey.
  • African-Americans and Hispanics in the Nielsen sample were more likely than whites to be daily users of their YouTube app (33% of African-Americans v. 24% of Hispanics v. 12% of whites) and their Pandora music app (33% of African-Americans v. 27% of Hispanics v. 14% of whites).

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

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About The Nielsen Company

For decades, The Nielsen Company has been a leader for research innovation, data integrity and client accountability. Across continents and industries, The Nielsen Company measures activity and engagement at every consumer touchpoint – from TV screen to smartphone, from viral video to shopping cart. As the principal provider of telecom and mobile media measurement to the global marketplace, Nielsen Mobile Media is uniquely positioned to provide the most comprehensive view of the mobile media consumer. Nielsen Mobile Media combines innovative, direct-measurement methodologies and large-scale consumer panels to meet an array of market research needs and to evaluate mobile media trends.

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