ComScore and Nielsen yesterday released new numbers indicating the app market's massive growth, but each of the reports also provides some perspective on just where app and smartphones sit in the larger universe of mobile content growth.
Nielsen pegs the smartphone penetration in the U/S at 21% of wireless subscribers in Q4 2009, up from 19% the previous quarter. Smartphones are on track to overtake feature phones perhaps next year. Still, their numbers show that only 14% of mobile customers have downloaded an app in the last 30 days. App-mania is still specific to handsets. BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile users have between 10 and 14 apps on their phones, with RIM on the low end of the scale. Arguably the dearth of narrow range of apps on these platforms restrains use, but even within the more populous Android marketplace users average 22 apps, compared to iPhone owners who devour 37 apps.
Facebook is the closest thing to a killer app mobile has. When broken down by operating system, 58% of iPhone users and 51% of BlackBerry users accessed their Facebook apps in the previous 30 days, a good ten to fifteen percentage points higher than the next most popular apps (iPod/iTunes for iPhone and Google Maps for BlackBerry). For some reason, Google Maps is the most used app on Android (67%) -- but the social network gets 50% of those users, too.
ComScore concurs that social is simply massive on mobile, showing 240% growth in app access the last year, and double the rate of any other category of content. In terms of market penetration, app use generally has grown 28% in a year, with an audience size just under 70 million.
But comScore has some interesting correctives to conventional wisdom in its report. Most important is that mobile Web browsing on smartphones is growing at almost exactly the same pace as apps. App penetration is just under 70 million -- but browser use is at 73 million. Apps are not eroding Web use. In key content categories, mobile Web has twice the audience of apps. Social networking via apps is up to 14.5 million a month, while the Web audience for that genre is just under 30 million.
It is a mistake to equate the rise of the smartphone with apps alone. Don't take your eyes and strategy off the mobile Web, because your customers certainly aren't.