New Research Says Mobile Users Have Short App-tention Span

Sep 18, 2013

Article ImageTo app providers, consumers can appear to be a rather fickle, easily distracted bunch, as evidenced by the latest data. Yes, they're downloading more tablet and smartphone apps than ever before (ABI Research estimates that 70 billion will be downloaded globally in 2013), but they're spending less time per session engaging with apps, according to a new study conducted by Localytics.

Localytics' data show that, over the past year, users are spending 14% less time per session, on average, for apps across many categories-including books, news, social networking, business, utilities, weather, music, and entertainment.

However, a closer look at the results shows that they're launching these apps 28% more often, resulting in an 8% increase in average collective daily time using apps. And those are the numbers that represent the silver lining to app providers, says Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics.

"For example, we found that the average session length on tablet news apps decreased by 16%, on average, over the past year. But total time spent on tablet news apps increased by 14%, on average," Aggarwal says. "Publishers may find the former numbers troubling, which they will interpret as signs of app fatigue and user fickleness, but we don't see this. Instead, these are signs that apps are becoming more ingrained in our everyday lives, with users turning to them more frequently but for shorter bursts of time."

Wolf Ruzicka, CEO of EastBanc Technologies, says the study's findings don't indicate today's consumers having attention deficit disorder. "We are witnessing their empowerment and a natural evolution of the service economy. It is the ability to intersect content with context more often and in a more granular fashion, so that it becomes relevant to the users in more situations," says Ruzicka.

Shorter app sessions are a consequence of simple math, Ruzicka adds. When a user has only one choice-such as the office desktop with one app on it-he will spend 100% of his time dedicated to interacting with it. When 10 apps appear on that desktop, the user's time will be divided among them-say 10% for each app. When he has 10 devices, each with 10 apps, the dedicated time becomes even more fragmented.

Consider the popularity of the three-minute pop song as a basis for comparison, says Dr. Joel Clifft, director of keyboard studies at Azusa Pacific University and developer of the app MusicTheoryPro. "I grew up listening to epic rock anthems that lasted 10 minutes or more. But today's composers, performers, and producers have realized that if they go on too long, they will lose their audience," Dr. Clifft says. "This is the result of a society that values a quick reward. Video games, fast food and smartphones have all met our demands to deliver entertainment, fuel and information in the shortest time possible."

Likewise, today's apps need to cater to that demand. "With a lot of apps, you don't need to be spending a long time interacting with them-you come in, get the info you need and move on with your day," says Aggarwal. "This demonstrates that app developers need to allow users to get in and out of the app more quickly and make the whole experience more efficient. And the more you can personalize that app experience based on who the end user is, the more likely you are to be successful."

Drew Davidson, senior experience director at AKTA, agrees, noting that content providers "need to enable the bite-snack-meal pattern of content consumption in the core structure and interaction model of their application. Most of them don't do it very well, forcing the user into more of a bite-meal pattern, which is not conducive to those quick moments."

What's more, publishers need to better understand technology, interaction design and the cross-platform consumption of media to thrive in this space. Additionally, it's crucial to become or partner with a technology company that provides content as their primary service, "not think of themselves as just content producers," says Davidson.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)