What publishers can learn from app usage

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New research about how consumers use phone apps could give publishers some important insights as they develop their mobile content strategies.

This week Nielsen and the Pew Internet Project each zoomed in on how Americans are using apps. Nielsen's The State of Mobile Apps report surveyed 4,000 mobile users who have downloaded a mobile app in the last 30 days. For a broader look at apps, Pew's The Rise of App Culture surveyed about 2,000 cell phone users.

Here are the takeaways for publishers:

Not everyone uses apps

Apps are popular but not dominant. Of the 82 percent of adults who have cell phones, less than half (43 percent) have downloaded an app, according to Pew. Altogether, more than a third of the U.S. adult population has cell phones with apps that they either downloaded or came bundled with the phone.

But just because they have apps doesn't mean they use them: Pew found that just one-fourth of adults are active app users.

Younger users like apps

Not surprisingly, apps are catching on the quickest among younger uses — which could be a sign for future widespread adoption.

Younger adults (18 to 29) are more likely to download and use apps, making up 44 percent of all adult app users, according to Pew. This group has and average of 22 apps on their phones (compared to an average of 18 among all adults).

Most young adults with apps on their phones actually use them (79 percent), compared to 67 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds.

Paid apps are less popular

Most people still only download free apps. Less than half of those who have downloaded an app have actually paid for it, according to Pew. Only 13 percent  of adult cell phone users have paid to download an app.

The Nielsen survey found that only 3 percent of app users downloaded a paid news or weather app in the past month, compared with 20 percent of those who downloaded a free app in that category. By contrast, 16 percent paid for a game app.

App users like games, news

Games and utilitarian apps are the most popular, but news ranks highly as well, according to Nielsen. Some publishers are dabbling with incorporating games into their digital strategies, and it might make sense.

Games continue to be the most popular category of apps, with more than half of respondents on both feature and smartphones using a game app in the past 30 days.

News is the sixth most popular app category (36 percent of smartphone users and 24 percent of feature phone users reported using a news app in the past month). Other popular categories: weather, maps, social networking, music and news.

The Pew survey found that app users are more likely to get news online (90 percent) than other Internet users (75 percent), which could be a good sign for news organizations.

In-app advertising can be effective

App advertising shows potential, particularly with younger users, who are more likely to look at ads. More than half (58 percent) of those ages 13 to 17 said they always or sometimes look at an ad; in contrast, the same percentage of those in the 35-to-44 age range said they never look at ads, according to Nielsen.

A significant percentage of app advertising leads to action. Approximately one in five app users said they have sought out more information after viewing a mobile ad or told someone about the advertised product or service. Seventeen percent have forwarded a link or video to others, and 10 percent have recommended an advertised product or service. Sixteen percent have used a coupon and 14 percent have entered a contest or sweepstakes.

Android users were the most likely to click on an advertisement in an ad (about one-third), compared to about one-quarter of iPhone users. Across all devices, users prefer to view advertisements within the app, rather than being directed outside of it.

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