Consumers are going online from their mobile phones in much greater numbers than just a year ago, according to a report this week from web and mobile measurement firm comScore Inc. Social networks are by far the most popular destination, but there is also strong growth in more serious tasks such as banking and shopping.
In the report from its MobiLens service, comScore broke out the two ways consumers can access the web from mobile handsets: by using a browser to access a mobile web site or by using a mobile app that resides on the phone and typically holds some of the data and images that the consumer sees, making for a faster and richer experience.
Whether consumers accessed the web via a mobile browser or an app, many of them were headed for social network sites.
14.5 million U.S. consumers used apps to access social network sites in April, 240% more than the 4.3 million who did so in April 2009, comScore says. Meanwhile, 29.8 million used browsers to go to social sites in April 2010, up 90% from 15.7 million a year earlier, comScore says.
Accessing bank accounts was the second most common activity from web browsers, with 13.2 million consumers doing so in April, an increase of 69% from a year earlier. 7.3 million consumers used browsers to access retail sites, up 47% from the same month a year ago.
As for consumers who used apps, accessing news and sports sites were the second and third most frequent activities. Going to online bank accounts was fourth, with nearly 5 million consumers doing so, up 113% from a year ago. 2.7 million consumers used online retailers’ apps, up 91%.
“Social networking is by far the fastest-growing mobile activity right now,” says Mark Donovan, comScore senior vice president of mobile. “With 20% of mobile users now accessing social networking sites via their phone, we expect to see both application and browser usage continuing to drive future consumption of social media.”
The rapid access of web access from mobile phones mirrors the proliferation of smartphones, the sophisticated mobile handsets with larger screens and faster processors than older, so-called feature phones. 78% of smartphone users accessed the web through a browser in April 2010 and 80% used mobile apps. By contrast, only 19% of feature phone users accessed their browsers and 17% used apps.
However, because there are still so many more feature phones than smartphones, much of the mobile web traffic is still from the older phones. For instance, 35.3 million feature phone users employed their browsers in April 2010 vs. 37.6 million smartphone owners, and 31.2 million feature phone owners used apps compared with 38.4 million smartphone users.
“Although growth in application usage on smartphones continues to grab the spotlight in the mobile market, the audience using their mobile browser remains larger and is growing just as quickly,” Donovan says. “Brands need to remember to take into consideration the user experience across both channels when building their mobile strategies.”
Nonetheless, the report also illustrates the rapid growth in use of smartphones. There was a 111% increase in the number of smartphone users employing web users in April vs. a year earlier and a 112% increase in the number using mobile apps. The number of feature phone users who employed browsers declined 6% and those using apps went down 14%.
The total number of mobile phone subscribers in the U.S. in December 2009 was 285.9 million, according to the CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for telecom operators. ComScore says 17% of U.S. mobile phone subscribers owned smartphones in December.