News / Science & Technology

When It Comes to Apps, Consumers Have Shorter Attention Spans

Google apps are shown on an Apple iphone 5 in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, April 16, 2013.
Google apps are shown on an Apple iphone 5 in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, April 16, 2013.
Consumers are using apps for shorter bursts of time and opting to “snack” on content more frequently, according to newly released data.

A record 70 billion smartphone and tablet apps are expected to be downloaded globally this year, according to market research firm ABI Research. But consumers' attention spans for apps are dropping.

“People are spending overall a fairly decent amount of time in the app, but it's small intervals of time repeated more frequently,” said Raj Aggarwal, chief executive of Boston-based web analytics company Localytics, which conducted the study.

The study looked at how consumers used over 500 news apps across 100 million iPhone, Android and Windows smartphones between July 2012 and July 2013.

It found that consumers spent on average 26 percent less time interacting with the apps during each session, but that they opened the apps 39 percent more often, for an average 25 times a month, up sharply from 18 times the previous year.

“The whole goal of mobile is to get people the information they need as quickly as possible,” said Aggarwal, who said shorter, more frequent sessions with apps were a sign of their increasing integration into consumers' daily lives.

“They're more engaged with the device, and not just using it as a way to kill time,” he said.

Apps are also leveraging context - such as a user's location, or the current weather in their area - to pull users back into the app more frequently with information that is relevant to where they are and what they are doing.

“The weather apps might proactively message people and say, 'Hey, there's a storm coming' or 'Today's going to be really hot day' as a way to bringing people back in,” Aggarwal explained.

He said consumers were similarly using social media apps for shorter bursts of time but much more frequently.

“Social networking apps have continued to grow rapidly in terms of the total amount of time people spend with them, but the average session is actually pretty small. But when you look at the amount of time people open these apps over the course of a month it's huge,” he added.

“It's close to 45 times a month, so people are coming back to them multiple times per day.”

Accordingly, apps are limiting content that people can post, to keep it brief and palatable for consumers.

Vine, for iPhone and Android, allows users to share videos as long as they are shorter than six seconds. And in June, Instagram updated their app to allow users to share videos, but only if they are shorter than 15 seconds.

The one area where average session length grew longer was games. According to the data, games captured consumer attention for 78 percent more time, increasing to 8.7 minutes per session in 2013 from 4.9 minutes for each one the previous year.

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