The introduction of “apps” for cell phones and other handheld devices has been one of the central features of a more general trend toward mobile connectivity in recent years. The “apps ecosystem” surrounding smartphones, tablet computers, and other mobile devices has generated tens of thousands of new features for handheld gadgets. Mobile apps now range from providing specialized content (such as news, weather or health) to games and even “augmented reality,” providing users with detailed information about landscapes, starscapes, buildings, and even people.
As noted in Pew Internet’s 2010 apps report, the term “app” has become popular parlance for software applications designed to run on mobile device operating systems, yet a standard, industry-wide definition of what is—and is not—an “app” is difficult to pinpoint. While technically any software that runs on a mobile device is an “app,” our data indicate that most users think of apps as specialized software they download to their phone, tablet, or other device that helps them perform a particular task. For the purpose of this report, apps are defined as end-user software applications that are designed for a mobile device operating system and which extend that device’s capabilities.
This new tool for accessing information, media, games, and social networks began to emerge after Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in January 2007. Since then, apps have become more popular as other smartphone platforms embraced this method of accessing content. Further boosting app use was the introduction of Apple’s iPad in the spring of 2010, which has been followed by a succession of similar tablet products such as the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy, and soon-to-be-released Kindle Fire.
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has begun to explore the contours of this relatively new digital phenomenon. In August of 2011, the Project conducted its most recent national survey of the state of apps culture. The survey was conducted from July 25-August 26 among 2,260 adults ages 18 and older in both English and Spanish, 916 of whom were interviewed on their cell phones.
As in prior Pew Internet surveys, cell phone owners were asked about app use and downloading. This survey marks the first time, however, Pew Internet has asked tablet owners about using apps on these newer devices as well.