The state of mobile app usage - and what it means for publishers

Recently, comScore released its 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report, an in-depth analysis of the U.S. mobile app market, including user behaviors, app downloads and advertising implications. 

At a time when more and more time is spent on mobile, (61% of time with digital media is now spent with mobile, according to a recent comScore report), there has never been a more exciting time to create and serve content to people on their mobile device.

The stakes, however, are high. People's attention spans are attenuating -- and viewing is being fragmented across many platforms and apps. Plus, as smartphones get smarter -- and features evolve (with everything from faster internet access to ad blocking), publishers need to develop a robust understanding of reader habits, and create compelling experiences based on these insights. 

After closely reading comScore's research, here are some takeaways I found particularly interesting in the context of media:


Digital media usage is exploding, predominantly driven by apps: Total time spent with digital media grew 49% from June 2013 to June 2015. Mobile accounted for 77% of that growth. 

When it comes to mobile usage, younger generations skew toward smartphones, while older generations skew (relatively) more toward tablet: Millennials spend roughly 3x as much time on smartphone apps as on tablet apps. Boomers, by contrast, split their time roughly 55/45 among smartphone and tablet apps respectively.

While social app usage outpaces entertainment app usage, don't discount the fact that much news is consumed within social apps: Social apps including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are increasingly doubling down on in-app content. Facebook recently launched Instant Articles, a service that allows publishers to publish directly within the social network, and Snapchat has been doubling down on Discover, its in-app content network. In May, the company reported that it has more than 2 billion video views a day. With all of these content discovery features available within social networks, it's no surprise that 88% of Millennials say they regularly get news from Facebook, according to a March study by the American Press Institute. Quartz was built on this insight, with all content designed to be consumed seamlessly within a social app.

The possibility of becoming a killer app (i.e. one that reaches 5M+ unique visitors) appears to be growing: The number of apps that reach 5M+ unique visitors grew 29% from June 2014 to June 2015 (from 95 in total to 127 in total).

Searching the app store is the most common tool for app discovery, followed by hearing about it from friends or family: Among Millennials, 27% discovered an app via the app store, 19% discovered an app via friend/family. Notably, getting an app featured in the app store is a more common discovery source for Millennials but less so for Gen X and Boomers.

The number one driver of whether an app makes it to the home screen is how often it is used: Only 11% of people said the look of the logo influences their decision to move an app to the home screen (vs. 46% who cited frequency of use).

And there is a very clear positive correlation between an app's reach and whether or not it's located on a home screen.

One handed vs. two-handed smartphone use is a generational phenomenon: 9% of Millennials only operate a phone with two hands, compared to 34% of Boomers.

Openness to push notifications is modest. And people are more open to sharing location than receiving notifications: 33% of people often or always agree to an app's request to allow push notifications. 42% of people are comfortable with apps accessing their geographic location information.

Among the top 25 apps by unique visitors, some noteworthy year on year unique visitor growth came from Instagram (35%), The Weather Channel (17%) and Spotify (236%).

Podcast listening looks likely to continue given its popularity: 41% of Millennials listen to podcasts on their smartphone at least once a month.

A large amount of news is now consumed in-app: 49% of time spent with "finance - news/research" content is in-app, 40% of time spent with "news/information" is in-app.

Mobile ads are significantly more effective than desktop ads: Mobile ads cause percentage point lifts 2-3x greater across key metrics compared to desktop. For instance, ads on mobile lead to a 4.3 percentage point lift in likelihood to recommend vs. 1.4 point lift on desktop. Ads on mobile lead to a 4.3 percentage point lift in purchase intent vs. 1.3 point lift on desktop.

It's clear that there are some tectonic shifts happening not only in how people access the internet but also how they consume content. Publishers have an exciting opportunity to radically reinvent how they operate, especially if they want to tap into the $100 billion+ worldwide mobile advertising market.