Communications and content drive consumer tech

I have a chart I often use in my presentations to clients, which encapsulates my perspective on the consumer technology market:

Comms and ContentThe point of the diagram is that, although much of the money and almost all the attention in consumer technology is centered on devices, devices are just a means to an end. What really drives consumer purchasing in this market isn’t hardware for its own sake but the ability to engage in communications and consume (and to a lesser extent create and share) content 1.

Comscore today released an in-depth report featuring many of its statistics on the mobile app market, and it’s full of interesting charts and data points. But given the framework I outlined above, I was particularly intrigued by the charts showing the most used apps by age group, based on share of time spent on mobile apps. ComScore presents this in four separate charts, but I’ve compiled that data into one chart for an easier overview:

Comscore app time spentWhat’s striking to me is that virtually all of these apps can be described as either content or communications (I see Facebook as a blend of the two categories, and it’s therefore interesting that it comes out on top by some margin). The only possible exception is Google Maps, which is arguably a form of content but sits outside my usual categories. The apps that make up the list vary considerably by age group, but the broad categories are similar. Among 18-24 year olds, messaging apps are disproportionately used, with Snapchat and Kik making their only appearances in the top 10 in this group, while with older age groups Gmail and Yahoo Mail creep in. Interestingly, games make an appearance in the top 10 among the two older age groups but not the two younger ones. Other than gaming, however, the top content apps are the same in all four age groups: Pandora on top, followed by YouTube and Netflix, in that order (Netflix drops out of the top 10 in the oldest age group):

Comscore three major content apps

Another fascinating feature of the data is somewhat counter-intuitive: the older you get, the less concentrated your app usage is in the top 10 apps. Comscore refers to this briefly in its report, characterizing it as a greater emphasis on fun and entertainment among younger users, while older users spend more time on productivity tasks as well, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Still, it’s a very clear trend:

Comscore top 10 apps as share of time spent in apps

The other fascinating thing to think about is that very few of the apps in the top lists are monetized directly from users. Users spend hundreds of dollars on the devices they use these apps on, but very few of them spend money on these apps. Netflix is the highest-paid app/service on the list, but essentially all the others at least offer a free tier and many of them are entirely free to users, funded by advertising. As such, even though communications and content drive purchasing in consumer technology, they don’t drive much of the consumer revenue in this space.

Notes:

  1. To be clear, my definition of content includes video, music, gaming, news, weather, books and so on, and my definition of communications includes audio, text, video and other forms.

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