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Smartphone App Addiction: It Could Be a Good Thing

What good is a smartphone? I'm sure if you ask most smartphone users that question—whether they're loyal to Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, or something else—they'll have no problem spouting a list of exciting things their mobile device lets them do: email, IM, gaming, Facebook, navigation. They might even mention its ability make phone calls, although that's probably an afterthought. It's the apps that make a smartphone. In fact, it's the apps that are changing our lives in dramatic ways—that is, if you're among the smartphone addicted.

MTV Networks along with Latitude Research recently released a new study about smartphone app usage. The research involved a survey of more than 1,300 people who reported using apps daily as well as in-depth interviews with app consumers. The key findings of this research fall into two areas. The first area has to do with how our app addiction is changing our daily lives—and, at least in the way they’ve presented their findings, changing them for the better.

The study found that 83 percent of respondents reported being addicted to apps. However, this app addiction is presented as having a positive effect on people’s lives in three distinct ways. In a personal focus, "apps allow intense personalization and hyper-focus, filling our idle moments with 'me time' on-demand." Apps are also described as making everyday life better by improving productivity, and thereby creating free time and "opportunities for positive discovery." Finally, apps provide exposure to new things—whatever that might mean in this context.

Smartphone_Retrevo_140086_0It would be interesting to see what an organization other than MTV might have to say about the same survey results—say, a company more interested in the psychological implications of app addiction and all this "me time" rather than just in advertising revenue. This device that is designed to connect people might actually be seen as a barrier to communication. In an unrelated study about mobile security from, 36 percent of respondents reported that either they or someone they knew had dropped a cell phone in a toilet. I think that's taking "me time" with your phone a little too far. Some idle moments are best left idle.

The second key finding from the MTV study describes a typical app lifecycle. The results describe four stages in this lifecycle:

  1. Discovery—This is an obvious step; you can't download an app before you've found it. The study points out that most app discoveries are a result of recommendations, which include personal recommendations from someone you know and user reviews in the app stores—so, if you're one of those who writes such reviews, do your best to be honest and write well; proofreading is so easy yet important!
  2. Adoption—The adoption stage is when you make the decision to download an app. For paid apps, the price was a large determining factor on whether users chose to download it; having a free or preview version available made the decision somewhat easier. The decision on whether to download a free app is governed largely by user and personal recommendations.
  3. Trial—After you've downloaded that new app, you've got to test it out, see if it lives up to expectations. However, a significant portion of downloads appear to be deleted within three weeks. On the other hand, of those that are kept, many users report checking that app at least once a day. In certain categories (gaming, entertainment), those apps are being opened several times a day. Yeah, it's an addiction.
  4. App_Lifecycle_140086_0Abandonment or Long-Term Usage—The final stage: Even an app that passes the trial stage might be abandoned after its usefulness has passed. However, apps that continue to provide new content or new experiences are likely to stay in regular use. Also, users want apps to be fun and entertaining.
Somehow, after reviewing all this, I'm reminded of The Simpsons episode, "Grift of the Magi," where Springfield Elementary students are duped into creating the ultimate Christmas toy, Funzo. But what did I expect from a study from an entertainment network?

Personally, I've never yet paid for an app for my smartphone, although I've downloaded quite a few free ones—and deleted some when they didn't turn out to be what I wanted or expected. I can perhaps conceive of paying for an app, but I would really have to be convinced up front that it was going to solve a problem or otherwise be just what I was looking for. I suppose, then, I'm not so very different from the MTV survey respondents. And as I've mentioned before, I proudly wave my smartphone addiction flag with no remorse.

I'm left with some questions, however. For instance, does a user's app behavior with regard to use or willingness to purchase vary based on the smartphone platform they choose? I've seen complaints from Windows Phone users that there isn't a free version of Angry Birds, as there is for Android devices; but that never stopped the game from being a success on iPhones. There are bigger questions about whether all this staring into tiny screens is good for us, physically and psychologically. Do we really need to be connected all the time? I'm not the one to answer these questions, but I'd love to hear your thoughts, of course.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins
Follow Windows IT Pro on Twitter at @windowsitpro
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