America Doesn't Download Apps, and Neither Do I

There are two apps downloaded to my iPhone. I can't app, apparently. According to a new comScore report, I'm not alone.

Aug 25 2014, 7:45pm

Image: Shutterstock

You'll never guess how many apps I've downloaded to my iPhone since downloading apps to smart devices became a thing. Two. I just can't—don't—app. And guess what? I am apparently not alone. 

Americans, it seems, are app'd out. Appathetic. That's the big takeaway from The US Mobile App Report, a new paper from digital data analytics firm comScore. The report looked at app downloads and usage among the 18+ crowd, and found that in an average month 65 percent of US smartphone users download zero apps. 

That's a big, fat 0. Apps—they're just not what they used to be. Or maybe, they're what they've always been and we, Americans, are just over it. Either way, we're not downloading the things like you might believe. 

Related: An App for Remembering Faces (If You Meet Enough People to Forget Them)

Sounds crazy, right? Under virtually every metric, it seems to fly right in the face of everything we've been told to believe about the New Digital Experience: That we're mobile-first creatures; that, as of 2013, the US had officially become a multi-platform majority, with most of the digitally consuming masses jacking in to both desktop and mobile devices every month, according to the report; that as of 2014, the report adds, we're now an app majority, meaning the bulk of the time we spend hoovering up digital media takes place on apps.

"Without apps, smartphones and tablets are merely shells," the comScore report reads, "like a beautifully designed car equipped with every feature you could want, but without any gas in the engine."

And yet, over two thirds of smartphone-using Americans didn't bother downloading a single app last month, if we're to believe comScore's findings. 


It gets better: Only about a third of smartphone users in the US were willing to pay for app(s) in a given month, comScore found. (Most of that slice downloaded between one and three apps.) And just seven percent of smartphone users in comScore's report constituted "nearly half of all download activity in a given month." Hardly the sort of numbers that stand to CHANGE EVERYTHING.

The question is, Why?

It can't be that we find no utility in apps. ComScore found that on a given day, over half of American smartphone users consulted apps. (I, for one, fall in those ranks, but more on that in a moment.) It can't be that they're too pricey, either. As Quartz reports, "Most apps are free, and app prices have notoriously been in a race to the bottom since the App Store debuted."

Here's a big, perhaps the biggest, driving factor behind comScore's consensus: Apps aren't money makers. On the whole, they just aren't attracting the sort of advertising revenue that a massive mobile audience warrants. At least not yet, they aren't. 

As my colleague Ben Richmond has reported, a quarter of apps plain don't make money, period, presumably for this very reason. Does that mean that no one's making killer apps anymore? Assuming you've already got the standbys that have been around for years, does you really need new apps?

But beyond the dollar signs, does the fact that so many of us did not pick up a single app in the last month, either for free or a few bucks, speak to a creeping consensus that, well, why do we need all these apps again?

Stop a random person in the street, and there's a decent chance she'll have a smartphone on her person. If that's the case, there's a very high likelihood she'll be making use of apps in one form or another (the vast majority of smartphoners do), and also that the apps already running on her phone are perfectly capable of handling tasks that are as basic as they are critical to 21st century life. E-mail, weather, maps, and text messaging. The essentials.

We're cutting away the fat, favoring a handful of useful apps to a clusterfuck of app-of-the-day downloads. Indeed, comScore reports that a "staggering 42 percent of all app time spent on smartphones occurs on the individual's single most used app."

Which brings me back to my own appathy. It's a strange thing, being an editor at a tech-focused website—and really, as someone who works for the internet—and running just a pair of apps on my phone: Twitter and Weather Puppy. (No, that app that let's you text like you're drunk when you're sober does not count.) 

But the way I see it is like this: There's enough noise out there as it is—another day, another dozen buzzed-about apps—so why pile on more?