Smartphones grab the lead on mobile app downloads

Jason Ankeny

Knowing your audience is a cornerstone of success in any profession, and mobile application development is no exception. For the first time, smartphone users now make up the majority of your audience: Even though smartphones still comprise only about 25 percent of the total U.S. wireless subscriber market, over the three-month period ending August 2010 they accounted for 60.4 percent of app downloads and 55.5 percent of mobile browser access, according to new data issued by market research firm comScore. Just a year ago, smartphones represented only 43.6 percent of app downloads and 41.4 percent of mobile web access, comScore notes. Weather and maps dominated all content categories accessed via downloaded applications in August, used by more than one-third of U.S. smartphone subscribers--social networking apps followed with 30 percent, trailed by search and news applications at 18 percent.

Chances are you're already writing applications for smartphones, of course--so who the hell are all these people you're writing for? Guys, mostly, although the gap is narrowing. ComScore reports that males represented 56 percent of smartphone users accessing apps or the web in August--female users make up the remaining 44 percent, obviously, but that number is up from 38.5 percent just one year ago. Broken down according to age instead of gender, smartphone users between the ages of 13 and 17 exhibit the strongest growth in app downloads and browser use, up 1.4 percentage points over last year to account for 6.9 percent of the total audience. Users aged 18 to 24 also display growing appetites for apps and the mobile web, representing 16.7 percent of the audience, a year-over-year increase of 0.6 percentage points. Users between 25 and 34 still make up the biggest segment of the app audience at 29.2 percent, down 0.5 percentage points over the previous year--users between 35 and 44 experienced an identical decrease, and now account for 23.7 percent.

Knowing your audience and what they're doing is only part of the battle, of course--identifying where they're moving next is another challenge. Among consumers planning to purchase a new smartphone in the next 90 days, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's Android are running neck-and-neck according to a new survey published by research firm ChangeWave. Thirty eight percent of 4,000 consumers surveyed late last month say they prefer their new smartphone to run iOS, followed by Android at 37 percent--however, ChangeWave reports that interest in iOS dropped 12 percentage points in the weeks following the June release of the iPhone 4, while Android demand grew 7 percentage points during the same period. Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry OS lags far behind the leaders, with only 6 percent of consumers planning to buy a BlackBerry smartphone in the next three months--that's actually 1 percentage point higher than the June 2010 ChangeWave survey, a rebound the firm credits to the recent launch of the BlackBerry Torch. Only 1 percent of respondents plan on buying a Windows Phone device, down from 2 percent three months ago, and Palm is in even worse shape, generating zero customer interest--unchanged from the previous survey.

Although iOS and Android are locked in a virtual dead heat among consumers looking to upgrade to a new smartphone, existing smartphone users express a decided preference for the iOS user experience. ChangeWave reports that 74 percent of current iPhone users say they are very satisfied with their device, compared to 65 percent of Android users--the dropoff is once again steep from there, with 32 percent of Palm OS/webOS expressing strong satisfaction, followed by BlackBerry users (31 percent) and Windows Phone users (24 percent). Android may be gaining on iOS in terms of U.S. smartphone penetration (17.0 percent market share as of July, up 5.0 percentage points compared to three months earlier, while Apple slipped to 23.8 percent, down 1.8 percentage points). But in terms of delivering the level of customer satisfaction on which Apple's reputation rests, Android still has some distance to go. -Jason

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