A new report released this week by mobile app search firm Quixey indicates that when it comes surfing the Web and all its many offerings via their smartphone, their preference between applications and mobile Web browsers is becoming increasingly evened out.
According to a 2015 survey, about a third of users express a likelihood of using either/or, depending on what exactly they're doing at the time. For those consumers with a strong either/or preference (about 42.7 percent of consumers) mobile apps have developed a slight edge with 23.1 percent preferring to use them nearly exclusively, while only 19.6 percent express a strong preference for their browser.
But the overall shape of the data tells a story about consumers essentially being open to either/or. 57.3 percent of consumers offered a response that indicated either a lack of preference or a lack of a general preference (as opposed to a situational one).
However, when it comes to how consumers are spending their time on mobile - the picture is a little different, with time in-app gaining ground, while time on mobile Web browsers is forecast to remain relatively flat for the foreseeable future.
So when preferences exist, what draws them out for the mobile consumers? Why are consumers becoming increasingly comfortable switch hitting? And what’s a merchant to do with this data, given the sum total of current conventional wisdom on app usage?
Among Those With A Preference
Among users who favored mobile apps, 28 percent (6.4 percent of total mobile users) noted that apps had more features and capabilities. Speed was also an issue — 20.5 percent of respondents noted that mobile apps offer faster access to content than the Web-based mobile counterparts. Push notifications — both their usefulness in-app and the lack of them in mobile browsers — were also an often cited issue that gave apps the edge.
However, apps also drew some complaints from those who prefer Web browsers, chief among them storage space and the fact that smartphones only have so much digital real estate for apps. There was also something of a disagreement over features and access capabilities, with many Web browsers aficionados complaining that many functions and features are either not available in-app — or not available in the same quality.
Mobile Web browser boosters also note as a plus that through a single browser app, they have access to a full assortment of Web content — and that access does not come at the cost of eating up valuable memory on their smartphone.
Time On The Screen
While consumers are expressing increasingly even sounding preferences for mobile applications vs. mobile Web browsing, their eyeballs are voting somewhat differently.
According to the Quixley report, smart device users are spending 3 hours, 5 minutes a day in mobile apps — up from 2 hours, 51 minutes in 2014. That figure is projected to growing to 3 hours, 15 minutes per day.
The forecasts for mobile Web browsing are not as growth-oriented; estimates believe it will remain at the 51 minutes it was at this year next year.
By 2016, mobile device users will spend 3 hours, 15 minutes per day using apps. Time spent on mobile browser activities will hold steady at 51 minutes this year and next.
So if consumers are spending more and more time in app, is it time for retailers to spend more and more money on apps?
Well, maybe not.
How Consumers Use Apps
As the data indicates the largest proportion of consumers indicate that they use of mix of applications and mobile Web, depending on what they are doing.
And data released earlier this year indicates that when it comes to using those apps, they are probably doing one of five pretty specific things. Research released by both Forrester and Nielsen in 2015 strongly indicated that consumers spend the vast bulk of their time in-app on Facebook, Google, Amazon (3 percent), Apple, or eBay (among others).
Consumers also have favored categories for apps. Social media leads the pack, followed by messaging, news and weather, and gaming. Mobile users do shop in- app, but Amazon’s app popularity (by itself it represents about 3 percent of monthly app traffic) skews that figure some. Customers do put retail apps on their phones, but not nearly as often as they put other types on — and they spend less time on those retail apps when they do.
Moreover, when surveyed by Forrester, the bulk of consumers noted that when it comes to retail and transactions, most mobile users are still looking to the Web.
The lesson for retailers? As the field levels in general, for those in the business of buying and selling, the smart money may not yet be in app development except for the few and profoundly popular.