College students love their Instagram. Baby Boomers still use Yahoo Mail.
These were some of the findings of a new report from the web traffic-monitoring company ComScore, which examines the most popular apps among American smartphone users. Mobile apps are now the most popular form of computing in the United States, period—more time is spent tapping away at screens than typing on desktop computers—and the report tries to give a marketer’s sense of the American app market, assessing the most popular genres of apps and whether iPhone users tend to be mostly young or old.
Most compelling to me, though, is that it breaks out the popularity of apps by age groups. This hints at some generational stereotypes—and also lets us try to assemble a picture of how different generations of adults understand the country’s most-used type of computer.
Top 10 Apps by Percent of Time Spent for Ages 18-24
The youngest Millennials use Kik and iFunny :).
Kik is a messaging app that allows images and links and works on iPhones, Androids, and Windows Phones. iFunny :) lets users add funny captions to images, and it has a central curated feed chosen by editors.
Yes, the smiley is part of the name. And, no, despite being 18 to 23-years-old, I had never heard of iFunny :).
Among this next age cohort—which I’ll describe as “older Millennials,” but surely include some thirtysomethings of mixed allegiance—Skype sneaks in. (Perhaps they’re old enough to have far-flung friends and young enough to not have yet lost touch with them.) Netflix also moves to the top five, and Pinterest sneaks in near the bottom of the list.
Top 10 Apps by Percent of Time Spent, Ages 35-54
Gen-Xers are still hooked on CandyCrush.
Note this is the first two-decade age demographic, a cohort which loosely corresponds to Generation X. They’re still playing CandyCrush! And they’re also using Viggle, an app that offers users rewards (like Starbucks and CVS gift cards) for watching television.
Top 10 Apps by Time Spent, Ages 55+
Baby Boomers are playing Solitaire!
This is my favorite finding in the whole report. Baby Boomers—smartphone owners older than 55—are using their fancy, new-fangled devices to play a classic of ’90s desktop gaming: Solitaire. Words With Friends (a remake on the meatspace game Scrabble) also ranks among this cohort's Top 10 apps.
This is also the second demographic where Skype makes a showing. Perhaps Boomers are using it to call their 25-34-year-old children—and to see their grandkids.
Though I’ve highlighted differences in this report, many things unite app usage across demographics. These similarities stuck out to me:
Everyone uses Facebook.
Across every age group, users spent the largest amount of time on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s own cohort, the 25- to 34-year-olds, devoted the most time to the network (18.5 percent!), but no group spent less than 14 percent of their time there.
A few big companies control almost all of the most popular apps.
Facebook owns more than Facebook: It also makes the popular apps Facebook Messenger and Instagram. Google makes YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps. This concentration of app power isn’t unusual. As the report says, six companies—Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay—“account for nine of the top 10 most-used apps.”
Those six companies also own 16 of the top 25 most-used apps and 24 of the top 50.
Lots of people use Pandora.
An outlier from this trend is Pandora: a stand-alone and publicly traded company. Yet the service’s radio app was the second-most popular for the three youngest age groups. For the Boomers, it ranked third—after Facebook Messenger.
Gathering and assessing data like this is hard.
ComScore rankings, it’s worth noting, are not a terribly precise science. The company pulls data in from many sources and uses proprietary algorithms to deduce what’s ahead; in this report, it gathered its data from June 2014. In the fluid, fast-moving game of web trafficstrology, ComScore’s data isn’t worthless, but it’s not gospel, either. It’s best understood as one informative epistemological tool among many.