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Who Uses Apps? A Mobile App Demographics Primer

As people across the globe turn to smartphones for more and more tasks, the apps on these smartphones move into the daily lives of nearly every demographic.

We could spend months examining each of the major demographic segments — gender, location, income, education, cross-app usage, etc. — and in Strategize, the next topic in the app lifecycle, we’ll shed light on how you can explicitly design your app for a well-defined demographic and use insights based on your target audience.

As a good baseline example of the kinds of differences you can see across the entire app economy, we’ll look at three different age ranges. The big takeaway is that there are important differences in app usage that you’ll want to consider when developing and launching an app.

App Usage & Preference By Age

Younger Users (13–24 Years Old)

Wherever you are in the world, younger app users are likely to be the most frequent users. If you can catch and keep their attention, you have the opportunity to develop a relationship that may last for decades.

A few general characteristics of this group (based on US users on Android).

  • Prefers messaging apps over email. If this is your target, adapt your communications strategy.
  • Makes many frequent but short visits. Since this group accesses apps more than twice as often as those over the age 45, your user experience design should be streamlined; this group also looks to tailored communications and advertisements.
  • Uses apps prolifically and early. As early adopters, they are more likely to abandon an app that doesn’t serve their purposes, which creates a retention risk.

With the highest overall time per age segment, this young group understands apps intimately and considers them a vital part of their daily lives. The 13-24 age group spends more time in apps overall, has more app sessions, and consumes significantly more data than any other age group. These characteristics make them incredibly valuable to businesses as they grow up and begin to make more spending decisions.

Highlight: Twitch

Twitch, a video gaming app that incorporates live broadcasting, chat and other social features, is hugely popular with the 13–24 age range. Since this group spent more than 3.5 times the overall usage time (compared with those over 45) and streams the most video, social media apps are big business — which explains why Amazon bought Twitch for $1 billion.

Around the World With 13–24-Year-Olds

Today’s youth spend more time in apps every day compared to their elders — and this is a trend we see around the world. In Germany and the UK, for example, this age group spent more than double the time in apps each day than those over 45.

In the short term, maintaining engagement with younger users in Europe is key. However, in both Germany and the UK, smartphone penetration grew at a slower rate for those aged 25–45 than for younger groups.

Consistent with their longer heritage with mobile devices, Japanese smartphone users of all ages spend more time in apps than those in the other countries we’ve looked at. They also spend more than 3 times as long in games per day when compared to the other countries we looked at.

Mid-Age Users (25–44 Years Old)

The next group of users is in the middle of everything. This 25–44-year-old age group reflects a large and powerful segment of users with distinctive characteristics. What’s interesting is that they represent the middle point for many app usage measures, including daily time in apps, data consumption, sessions per day and session duration.

A few general characteristics of this group (based on US users on Android):

  • Combines spending power with tech savviness. Based on their app usage patterns, this indicates high-value consumers.
  • Shows high engagement with retail apps. This group spends the most time in the top five retail apps on Android and accesses them most frequently.
  • App usage is growing quickly. Acquisition and engagement strategies appropriate for the 13–24 age group may soon work for this group.

With a high propensity for using retail apps — combined with spending power — this group is ready for the mobile retail revolution. Whether you are looking to sell your products via mobile, advertise or create an app to enhance the in-store experience, targeting this group may be an effective strategy.

Around the World With 25–44-Year-Olds

In Japan, 25-44-year-olds account for more than 50% of all time spent in apps. This is a significantly higher share than in any other country — more than we’d expect from its population age distribution — and indicates the size and importance of this market segment in Japan.

To a lesser extent we also see this 25–44 skew in Germany, which has experienced a rapid uptick in smartphone penetration over the past few years (particularly in this age bracket), but in the UK and the US, overall app use is shared more evenly among age groups.

All of these countries have one thing in common: Users in this age bracket had access to smartphones when they were younger, are more accustomed to using them, and are carrying that usage into their adult lives.

Highlight: Fintech Apps

This group loves social media apps, as do the younger group, but they are not as active. Their high spending power makes them more likely to use financial service apps that might incorporate some aspects of social media, such as Mint and Venmo.

Later Users, Age 45+

People over the age of 45 do show distinctive patterns when it comes to app usage. If this is your target market, be sure to account for these patterns in your strategy.

Users over the age of 45 do not use apps as frequently as those in younger age groups, but they do have the longest session durations. They also represent a demographic with significant spending power. In fact, people over 45 contributed more than 60% of all consumer expenditure in the US, according to the 2014 census report. Estimates indicate that by the 2030 decade, over-60s will contribute more than 50% of the US’s GDP. That is not a figure that should be ignored or overlooked.

Characteristics of users over 45 years old (based on US Android users):

  • Prioritizes desktop-era activities. These users tend to spend more time in mobile browsers than other groups and remain faithful to email (over messaging).
  • Longer session times. While they have less overall contact with their smartphones, they are committed to apps for longer sessions, which could provide opportunities for deeper communication. This group spends 25% longer on average in apps during each session than younger users.
  • May be underserved by current app market. We see significant headroom for increases in smartphone penetration in this group; there could be an influx of new, older-aged users in the coming years.

While you may have less contact time with this audience overall, each exposure will be for a longer period of time. Since they are underserved by the current app marketplace, it could be beneficial to include familiar features from traditional channels in your app to make onboarding more intuitive.

Highlight: Travel Apps

Baby boomers are particularly likely to use travel apps like TripAdvisor, which cover the full travel experience, from booking hotels and flights to translation services to full airport guides. It’s an all-in-one approach that makes handling a potentially complicated task — planning a vacation — easily achievable. The incorporation of cost-savings into the app experience makes the app even more appealing to this age group.

Around the World With 45+ Users

Japan continues to buck the global usage trends for this age group. Even those aged 45+ spent more than double the time in games than the youngest age groups in other countries. Japanese over-45s did still access games more than twice as often as their age counterparts in the US.

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