Smartphone Users Download Apps, But Don’t Use Them–Because They Can’t

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Many smartphone owners download apps but do not use them, like the car buyer who asks for adjustable sets but never uses the settings.

The Pew Internet Project says that 35% of Americans who have access to apps add them to their phones, but only 24% use them.

People who own Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhones and the handsets with the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android operating system give them the same attention that they give PCs. But, smartphones are not PCs and most of the applications from app stores like Apple’s are useless.

“An apps culture is clearly emerging among some cell phone users, particularly men and young adults,” said Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project. “Still, it is clear that this is the early stage of adoption when many cell owners do not know what their phone can do. The apps market seems somewhat ahead of a majority of adult cell phone users.” That is the operative observation. Technology, whether it is a home theater, a smartphone, or a new car with GPS and modern cruise control is simply too complicated for the vast majority of people to use effectively. Each of these industries and the smartphone app sector are spending money to develop options are are essentially useless unless the customers can be sent to training sessions.

“Older adult cell phone users in particular do not use the apps that are on their phones, and one in ten adults with a cell phone (11%) are not even sure if their phone is equipped with apps,”  she says. Put another way, it would be just as well to disable the app download features on any smartphone sold to someone over 65 years old. They are just as likely to be injured in a car accident texting on their phones are they are to download an app and figure out how to use it.

As far as most of the population is concerned, cellphones are useful for voice communication, texting, taking pictures of children and vacations, and playing music. Otherwise, they are little better than bricks.

Douglas A. McIntyre

In addition to drawing on results from the Pew Internet Project’s own nationwide probability sample of 2,252 adults, this report also presents findings from The Nielsen Company’s Apps Playbook, a December 2009 survey of a nonprobability sample of 3,962 adult cell phone subscribers who had downloaded an app in the previous 30 days.