The App Economy Is In Rude Health, Says Flurry, But Mobile Browsers Are Being Squeezed By Facebook

App analytics company Flurry, which measures monthly usage on more than a billion active smart mobile devices, has taken a look at how U.S. consumers are splitting their time between mobile apps and browsers. The company found the iOS and Android app economy is in rude health: with consumers spending 80% of the average two hours and 38 minutes per day that they use smartphones and tablets spent inside apps, while only a fifth of that time (20% — or 31 minutes) is spent using mobile web browsers.

When it comes to app categories, games take a big bite out of consumers’ mobile device time — with around a third (32%) of daily average usage spent flinging fowl or similar. Facebook was the next biggest time-sink, cutting itself an 18% daily usage slice. Add in a further 6% of time spent on other social network services and activity within social media apps accounts for almost a quarter of the average user’s mobile day, according to Flurry’s data.

But it’s not just social networking that is driving Facebook app usage. Flurry CEO Simon Khalaf speculates that the large proportion of time spent inside the Facebook app is down to users viewing web content from inside Zuckerberg’s walled garden. He notes: “We can assert that Facebook has become the most adopted browser in terms of consumer time spent” — and goes on to add that mobile has “become Facebook’s biggest opportunity”, with consumers spending almost 39 minutes per day using the Facebook app on average.

Facebook has become the most adopted browser in terms of consumer time spent.

“Five years into its existence, the app economy is thriving,” Khalaf writes on the company blog. “We looked for possible signs of slowing, we could not find any, largely due to the fast adoption of tablets just after smartphones… Tablets and smartphones are eating up desktops, and notebooks and apps (including the Facebook app) are eating up the web and peoples’ time.”

iOS browser Safari also took a biggish chunk (12%) of mobile users’ time. Flurry’s data suggests iPhone and iPad owners might be doing a little more mobile browsing than Android users (unless Android users are more prolific Facebookers than iOS device owners) — since even collating the Android native browser with Opera Mini and other unnamed browsers picked up by Flurry’s analysis yields only around half the proportion of time spent in a browser vs Safari use. The iPad may be the cause of Safari’s dominance here, being as it’s well suited to browsing the mobile web (and Android tablets are not (yet) as dominant as the iPad).

Elsewhere, Flurry’s data shows entertainment and utility apps took 8% apiece, while productivity and news apps only accounted for 2% of usage each. It also found that U.S. consumers — far from being bored of apps, as third mobile ecosystem platform contenders sometimes try to argue — are actually using increasing numbers of apps per day. Comparing three years of worldwide data, Flurry found the number of apps launched per day has risen steadily from 7.2 in Q4 2010, to 7.5 in Q4 2011, to 7.9 in Q4 2012.

“To us, the steady growth rate indicates that the app economy is not yet experiencing saturation, as consumers steadily use more apps over time,” Khalaf writes. “And while there are more apps in the store, large numbers of them have short lifespans, such as books, shows and games. Assertions that people are using fewer apps in 2012 than they did in 2010 appear to be incorrect.”

Flurry also compared new vs existing app usage and found that the proportion of new apps being used almost doubled between Q4 2010 and Q4 2012 — see chart below. This portion of the study was based on a sample of more than 2.2 million devices that have been active for more than two years. The positive takeaway for developers here is that the market is still very dynamic and open to newcomers.

“We believe that with consumer continuing to try so many news apps, the app market is still in early stages and there remains room for innovation and breakthrough, new applications,” Khalaf notes.