21 May 2014

What apps are on your home screen? (#HomeScreenSurvey)

Competing in the app economy isn't as easy as you may think. Last year, I read some studies on app usage and app abandonment rate that scared the marketer in me. Here's a paragraph from a TechCrunch article listing many of the sources:

"Back in 2011, around a quarter of mobile apps were downloaded, used once then abandoned. Today’s users are far more fickle, given their greater choice. According to Mobilewalla founder Anindya Datta, speaking to USA Today last year, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of apps are eventually deleted from users’ phones.

Talk about having only one chance to make a good first impression."

First impressions are important, it would appear. At first, this sounded a bit over the top. Over 80% of apps were likely to fail the first impression test and get deleted, immediately or consigned to the waste bin of screen 3, 4 and 5 on your phone. Over the top until you look at your own phone and think about how many apps you regularly use that AREN'T on the home screen. Try it.

Which makes me wonder, just who are we competing with when we build apps and try to get people to use them? I'll give you a clue, it's the big guys. And they're winning at the moment!

Over the course of this past week, I asked my followers on Twitter to submit screenshots of their home screens, compiled the data and tried to gather some insights on what must be 80-90% of app usage on their smartphones. I doubt this is a statistically significant sample - but it's a sample nonetheless. Most likely:
  • tech savvy, Twitter users who follow @andyhadfield :)
  • iOS dominant (this was interesting, over 90% of respondents were on iOS)
  • know how to take a screenshot
In the spirit of open source, here's a link to the 54 home screens that were submitted and the Excel I put together to work out the frequency of particular apps. Do with it what you will. Credit and link back here if you please.


I'd love someone with a bit of a research bent to dig into this a little more. Until that person pops up, I've put together a little frequency map for you to have a look at - with some of my findings / thoughts below.

Rules I applied:
  • Just the home screen apps were noted down
  • Apps within folders were ignored (because I couldn't be sure exactly which apps they were)
  • Folder names were jotted down
  • Folder names that were almost exactly the same were combined (eg. Photography vs Photographic)
  • Widgets (eg. weather) on Android home screens were indicated as such

Please leave any comments around insights you may have picked up. Here are a couple of things I found interesting:
  • The dominance of iOS was odd in the sample. 
  • Embedded Apple apps were obviously the strongest - didn't expect anything different.
  • Twitter and Instagram beat out Facebook, only just. This may have been because the sample was more Twitter orientated. Twitter beat out Facebook quite heavily if you count 3rd party Twitter apps.
  • Clock and Torch apps still rank highly, even though iOS 7 allows you to swipe up from the bottom to access those functions (I personally removed both these apps off my home screen when that happened - saved some space).
  • Chrome is moving up the ranks but Safari is still almost double the frequency. Again, the Twitter audience is likely more tech-savvy hence the presence of Chrome.
  • Why on earth would people include the Contacts app on your home screen when you can get to it via the Phone button?
  • Everyone has the "Phone" app - except one person. 
  • Folders are popular.
  • Both iTunes Store (indicator that buying music is increasing locally?) and the App Store / Google Play Store performed strongly. The presence of an App Store is just more evidence of our dopamine-based app culture. Quick hits of "trying out new stuff" before deleting and moving back to what our phones are really for - utility.
  • Paid for navigation apps (eg. TomTom) have a tough job where the alternatives are great and free.
  • Banking apps (FNB and Standard Bank were the only ones to make an appearance in this sample) aren't quite the home screen stalwarts I suspected they might be. Or they were consigned to a folder...
  • ... and then there's the long tail. One of the most fascinating things about this list is the sheer volume of apps I've barely heard of that users have deemed important enough to occupy that valuable home screen. Browse through it - there's some dopamine to be had.

And finally, from a business perspective. Hopefully now you can see how tough this world of apps is. Not only do you have to be discovered inside the app store. But you've somehow got to get onto the primary screen - or your usage is going to be an uphill battle.

What else can you figure out?