Tales from the AppStream: The State of the App Ecosystem on Android Phones

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This is the first in a series of posts about the app ecosystem, using data from Jumpshot’s new AppStream offering.  We’ll start with a broad overview of the app landscape, which is characterized by dominant players and long-tailed distributions, much like many other digital markets.  Then we will do a deeper dive into two popular apps — Facebook and Snapchat — and explore insights that emerge when we examine how app usage relates to brand preferences and broader patterns of digital behavior.

Unless otherwise noted, data in this post refers to app usage on Android phones during June 2019 in the United States (iOS data are not included; more methodological information is available at the end of this post).

Dominant Brands & Long-Tailed Distributions

Examining the most widely-used apps reveals the pattern of dominant brands and long-tailed distribution that characterizes many aspects of the digital world.  In June 2019, nine apps were used on a majority of Android phones — eight from Google, along with Facebook and Facebook’s Messenger. Beyond the top 10, four Samsung apps rank in the top 20, including their web browser and email client.  Collectively, the top apps reflect the long-standing core elements of consumer digital behavior: searching, surfing, maps, videos, and social media.  

Looking at specific categories of apps reveals similar patterns of dominant players and long-tailed distributions.  Among search apps, for example, Google dominates; their search app is used on 82% of phones, up from 77% just since January 2019.  DuckDuckGo is a very distant second, used by just 2% of phones; but it is growing strongly, with the number of users is up 50% from the beginning of the year, a figure that would be even higher if it weren’t for significant churn.  Search apps from Bing and Yahoo are used by fewer than 1% of Android phones. Google also leads by far on metrics of “stickiness,” such as the number of sessions per user on a typical day.

The same patterns of dominants players and long-tailed distributions is reflected in other categories as well.  For example…

  • Shopping apps are unsurprisingly led by Amazon, used by 36%, far ahead of eBay (13%) and Walmart (12%) — the same top three retailers on the web.
  • YouTube leads the video app categories and is used on 76% of phones, followed more distantly by paid streaming services Netflix (21%) and Hulu (7%).  

Social Media Deep Dive: Facebook & Snapchat

The use of social media apps also reflects a market of digital dominators — nearly two-thirds use Facebook, followed by Facebook-owned Instagram at 36%, and Snapchat at a more distant 20%.  (This post focuses primarily on US data, but the pattern holds across major international markets — Facebook has 3-5 times more users than Snapchat in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Brazil.)  

But the data also underscores the opportunity available to players in the long-tail.  Snapchat is smaller but continues growing, with more users adding the app then deleting it each month, while Facebook is losing slightly more users than it adds.  Snapchat also reaches an audience that is demographically and attitudinally more distinct. This, in turn, highlights the importance of looking beyond simple reach metrics, to a more complete understanding of consumers across the Internet, beyond the confines of the app.

With such broad reach, it is not surprising that Facebook’s users tend to be demographically and behaviorally similar to the market as a whole, with slightly lower use among younger consumers.  Snapchat users, in contrast, skew younger, with particular strength in the 18-24 group.  

The most telling differences between the two apps lies in the brand affinities and purchase profiles of their users.  By linking app usage to mobile web usage, we are able to understand distinct brand preferences, and by extension, gain insight into the lifestyles, attitudes, and aspirations of users of each app.  

To quantify brand affinities, we first created a brand index to examine how Facebook users differ from users of social media apps in general.  An index of…

  • 100 means Facebook users purchase the brand to the same extent as social media users in general
  • 120 or more means that Facebook users are 20% more likely to purchase the brand
  • 80 or less means that Facebook users are 20% less likely to purchase the brand 

This 20% cutoff is admittedly somewhat arbitrary but is a useful guideline for this analysis.  We then calculated brand affinities for Snapchat users.

As we saw with demographics, the brand preferences of Facebook users don’t differ dramatically from the population as a whole (that’s essentially by definition, because Facebook users are a majority of the population).  Still, there are a few skews in the 120-135 range. Snapchat, in contrast, attracts a smaller but more distinct audience, with much stronger skews. Snapchat users are more likely to purchase athletically-oriented brands (adidas, Under Armour, Nike), as well as some gaming- and tech-oriented brands such as Nintendo and Sony.  Snapchat’s stronger skews are also reflected in that they under-index on some brands to a greater degree than Facebook users.

Even within a particular category, the diverging interests of Facebook and Snapchat users are apparent.  Within the auto category, for example, Facebook users are more likely to be interested in high-end car restoration.  Snapchat users, in contrast, see the auto category from a different perspective, with much stronger interests in automotive accessories and rideshare services.

Summing Up 

In many ways, the app ecosystem mirrors digital markets more generally (as Mark Twain is reputed to have said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes”).  Winner-take-all market dynamics have left Google, Amazon and Facebook dominating search, shopping and social, respectively.

That leaves most others looking for strategies to thrive in the long-tail — building strong engagement with smaller but distinctly attractive audiences.  Here a comprehensive understanding of consumer digital behavior becomes crucial. Marketers must understand, not simply what apps consumers use, but also how, when and why.  By linking app behavior to mobile web usage, and to brand purchases more specifically, we can build more insightful and actionable profiles within the app ecosystem.

 

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Methodology: 

Unless otherwise noted, data in this post are based on June 2019 data Jumpshot’s app-based panel of 1.6 million Android users in the U.S. (nearly 20 million worldwide).  Data are anonymized and aggregated. Data from iOS devices is not included.  

Data from StatCounter (below) provides context about Android & iOS market shares.  Globally, 76% of smartphones are Android, a figure that has risen sharply for several years, while iOS has remained relatively stable at around 22%. In the U.S., Android’s 47% market share falls slightly behind the 53% of iOS.  

 

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