Users Sticking with Their Core Apps

As media outlets attempt to broaden their digital presence, a recent report found that smartphone users are not downloading many apps per month, leaving these outlets questioning  how to engage with their mobile audience.

comScore released its first-ever “U.S. Mobile App Report” in August, detailing the status of  the current mobile landscape and where people are spending most of their digital time.

Although mobile app usage has increased 52 percent in the past year, about 66 percent of smartphone users reported downloading zero apps per month. A large chunk of the time users spent on their apps — 42 percent — was spent on the user’s most used app, according to the report.

“We are finding a limited set of apps that people are using, and it has to do with storage space on users’ phones and people deciding to use their core apps for their basic needs,” said Adam Lella, marketing insight analysts for comScore.

The top apps, according to the study, include Facebook, YouTube, Google Play, Google Search and Pandora Radio.

Lella said it might not be in the best interest of small news publications to create a news app based off their recent findings.

“A lot of companies shouldn’t be wasting their time building apps, and smaller publications should think twice about it,” he said. “People only have so many apps for their phone. Unless you are expecting people to use your app within their top apps it’s probably not worth it to use those resources building an app. It’s probably better to build up that mobile website.”

While total U.S. digital media time has increased 24 percent in the past year, desktop computer usage still managed to grow by 1 percent, and about 70 percent of users choose to get their news from desktops compared to about 50 percent through mobile apps, the researchers  found.

“Additionally, the digital time spent is growing in general, and most of that growth is coming from mobile and mobile apps, but not at the expense of desktop,” Lella said. “It’s remained flat and that’s just a big finding because it shows that while people are more connected to their phones, there is still the importance of getting information through a website on a desktop. Media outlets should keep that in mind.”

A poll of 50 Online News Association conference attendees and speakers found that about 64 percent download a new app each month, although some said that high percentage could be unique to online journalists who might download an app just to try it out.

“All of us here at this conference want to try new apps and see how they can assist us in our reporting, but that could just be because we are all interested in that,” said Kaeti Hinck, design director for Investigative News Network and speaker for the session “Big Impact With Small Teams: Designing a Kick-Ass Process for the Small and Scrappy News App Team.”

Hinck said more news organizations, especially small news sites, should focus on the mobile responsiveness of their websites and projects to make it the best experience for the reader.

“We build all our projects responsively, so they work on all devices,” she said. “It’s incredibly important for your projects to work on many devices and screen sizes, it’s about meeting readers where they are. Every project starts by thinking about the mobile experience. In the sort of work we do right now, responsiveness works best for us. We want to be nimble and build tools that work on all devices.”

Becca Aaronson, news app developer for The Texas Tribune, said her organization used to have an app, but they “nixed it and decided to work on the responsiveness of the website.”

“An app is a silo,” she said. “If I’m on the New York Times app, I only get New York Times content, but if I’m on Twitter, I can get them, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, etc. You don’t really need an app, you just need a really responsive website.”

Chris Kirk, interactives developer for, said creating a news app at this moment in the digital era does not seem to be the most time- and cost-effective method for media outlets.

“Investing in an app is like investing in a home page in an era when the home page is dying,” he said. “People get through to your stories through social media. I don’t really go to a news app for my news, when I can get all of it and more from Twitter. If you want to focus on something, focus on the mobile experience of your regular website.”