The Implications of App Use on App Design

paper.pngI came across an interesting paper on Falling Asleep with Angry Birds, Facebook and Kindle – A Large Scale Study on Mobile Application Usage (pdf). It describes a study of 4,125 users, between August 16th 2010 and January 25th 2011. The main conclusion of the study is that mobile device users spend almost an hour a day using apps but spend less than 72 seconds with an app at a time. Here are some further insights…
  • Mobile phones are still used mostly for communication (text and voice)
  • Some apps have intense spikes in relative usage (e.g. music and social apps)
  • Other apps are more broadly employed throughout the day
  • When people actively use their devices they spend less time with each app
  • Short sessions with only one app are much more frequent than longer sessions with two or more apps
  • When people are traveling they are more likely to use multimedia apps and they are surprisingly less likely to use travel apps


This research tends to support the commonly held theory that people ‘snack’ on apps. From a design perspective it follows that it’s best for apps to allow people to easily get to the main purpose of the app rather than have to go through intermediate (menu) screens. Also, just because people only use apps for a short time doesn’t mean the apps have to be idle. There are types of app that can work in the background and notify users when something happens such that the actual time spent in the app can be minimised.

Another thought I have is whether all this equally applies to tablet apps. Unlike smartphones, tablet apps are great for applications such as news reading where an app session can potentially be a long time. In general, it’s easier to read information on the tablet and there might be more inclination to linger and view more. If so, this might have design implications for smartphone as opposed to tablet apps.

UPDATE 26 January 2012: If the paper is too dry for you, there’s an infographic based on this data at appazaar.