The Mobile App Gap: Browse or Application?

According to the IAB Apps and Mobile Web Consumer Survey, conducted by the Harris Poll, the October, 2014 comScore audience data indicates 88% of consumer mobile (for the study, “mobile” refers specifically to smartphones) internet time is spent in apps, while 12% is spent browsing the mobile web, but only 18% of mobile internet users perceive their usage as skewing heavily toward apps.

Mobile internet use is divided into browsing the mobile web and using mobile applications (“apps”). Media companies, agencies, and marketers face some confusion regarding whether they should focus their strategies predominantly on apps or mobile web. At the simplest level, many measurement firms report that mobile internet usage gravitates very heavily toward mobile apps, and so a nave view emerges that apps have somehow “won,” and that mobile web is unimportant.

This overlooks the important role mobile websites play in people’s total mobile internet experiences. In practice, in daily use of the mobile internet, consumers make use of both apps and mobile browsing, trading off based on expediency and personal preference.

Mobile Internet Users Reporting Time Spent On Apps or Mobile

Reported Use

% of Respondents

Significantly more time using apps than browsing mobile websites


Somewhat more time using apps than browsing mobile websites


About equal amounts of time using apps and browsing mobile websites


Somewhat more time browsing mobile websites than using apps


Significantly more time browsing mobile websites than using apps


Source: IAB, January 2015

The “app gap,” created by this disparity between perception and time spent, needs explanation, says the report. For some important content types, app and web usage is very balanced. 42% of mobile internet users prefer mobile web for search, and app-web preferences are balanced for shopping, news, and local directory information.

Moreover, app usage can actually be mobile web use in disguise, says the report. 52% of smartphone owners say they tap links in mobile apps that take them to web articles they want to read sometimes or more frequently. Men are more likely than women to use apps to access web articles at least sometimes.

How often do you tap or click on links in mobile apps (e.g., social media apps, news apps) that take you to mobile websites containing an article you wish to read, asks the study. (all respondents):

  • Very Often    3%
  • Often    10
  • Sometimes    39
  • Rarely    33
  • Never    16

Source: IAB 2014 Apps and Mobile Web Consumer Survey

Search and social media are important as the new front doors to mobile web content. 54% of mobile internet users cite searching (for topics or publications) as a primary way they find websites they visit, while 29% cite word-of-mouth, and 26% cite links in social media.

Top Mobile Website Access Methods


% of Respondents

Search engine (topic)


Friend recommendation


Link in social Media app




Bookmark site


Search (publication)


Ad promotion


TV show, online article


Link in other mobile app


Source: IAB, January 2015

Mobile internet users’ perceptions of how they spend their online time don’t match up with measurement data from comScore and other sources, concludes the report. While some demographic segments show a slight tendency toward mobile apps, and one demo (people with college degrees or more education) shows a tendency toward mobile websites, those skews are not dramatic.

When mobile internet users who said they spend more time using mobile apps are asked why that is, 64% said apps are more convenient, and 62% said apps are easier to use, by far the most cited responses.

When those who said they spend more time browsing the mobile web why they opt for that, 49% said they wanted to avoid paying for apps, 42% said using a browser is easier than using apps.

Therefore, says the report, people are pragmatic about their mobile internet use, opting for convenience and ease to accomplish any given task. Sometimes the convenient path will lead to an app, and sometimes it will lead to a mobile website. So consumers split their usage.

Report Summary

  • US mobile internet users’ perception of their usage of apps and mobile websites diverges from the time spent data.
  • For mobile internet users, ease and convenience help dictate a preference for apps AND mobile web browsing. These can nudge people toward either mode, depending on the task at hand
  • Marketers should follow the lead of mobile consumers, and adopt a pragmatic attitude toward the two modes of mobile. Including both in media plans will help to maximize chances of achieving target reach and frequency goals for a campaign
  • Media companies must adapt their mobile web strategies to a world where search and social are vital points of access—while also encouraging old fashioned person-to-person sharing and even word of mouth

Please visit the IAB here for a PDF file of the complete, detailed report.



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