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A Look at How People Use Mobile Apps

When it comes to mobile apps, smartphone and tablet owners are becoming less fickle, iPhone owners are more loyal than Android phone users, and news outlets are the most likely to have users return to their apps on a regular basis, according to a new study.

A new study shows that iPhone owners are more loyal than Android phone users when it comes to apps.

Since the iPhone’s release in 2007, thousands of developers have begun creating downloadable apps for everything from video games to photo sharing. As of June, consumers had downloaded 30 billion apps from the Apple App Store where more than 650,000 apps are available. Google Play, which sells Android apps, is reported to have had 15 billion downloads from its selection of 500,000 apps.

With all those options, it can be hard to get noticed and app developers have invested in aggressive marketing tactics to get their apps on consumers’ phones and see their rankings on the app download charts shoot up. An equally important, but often overlooked measure of an app’s success, though, is its retention rate, says Raj Aggarwal, chief executive of Localytics, a Cambridge, Mass., mobile analytics firm that put out the new study on apps.

For many developers, getting their free app downloaded is only half the battle toward making some money — the real key is getting consumers to make in-app purchases and to view advertisements.

“The more frequently you can get people to come back to the app, the more in-app purchases they’re going to make,” Mr. Aggarwal says.

According to Localytics’ analysis, about 31% of mobile users opened up their apps at least 11 times or more over a nine-month period, up from 26% a year ago. Still, creating loyal app users isn’t easy, with 69% of users opening an app 10 times or less, and over a quarter using the app just once after downloading it.

Localytics analyzed the behavior of consumers on 60 million mobile devices, including phones and tablets, across roughly 10,000 apps. The company analyzed users who downloaded an app in July 2011 and then counted how many times they opened up the app over a nine-month period ending in March 2012. The company’s findings are to be released this week.

The company didn’t distinguish between paid and free apps and looked at all major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and HTML5. It chose the metric of opening an app 11 times or more as the high-end metric because that it is the rate at which app publishers consider a user to be loyal or retained, Mr. Aggarwal says.

Users of the iPhone and iPad are about twice as loyal to their apps than Android users, the analysis found. About 35% of Apple device users opened their apps 11 times or more, compared to just 23% of Android users. Aggarwal says the disparity may be linked to the fact that many developers create apps for the iOS platform first, and then move on to Android, making the iOS apps a “bit more mature and polished and refined.”

While print circulation continues to decline, news publishers have some good news in the Localytics report. News apps like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal saw the highest retention rate, with 44% of users. Gaming (e.g., Angry Birds), Entertainment (e.g., Netflix) and Sports (e.g., ESPN ScoreCenter) all had retention rates between 33% and 36%. Lifestyle apps, which include both e-commerce and life event planning tools, had the worst user retention, with just 15% opening an app 11 times or more and 30% opening an app just once.