While we're using smart phones more than ever, that doesn't necessarily mean they're making us more efficient. A recent survey of Australian phone users demonstrates that when it comes to installing applications, games beat out productivity tools every time.
Picture by Johann Larson
The 2010 Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index (AMPLI), conducted by the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association, surveyed 3,758 Australians about their phone usage. This is the sixth version of the study, and one notable trend is that data inclusions are now a major consideration for many users. 47% of respondents said that they had a data component in their payment plan, up from 31% in the previous survey, and 62% had more than 50MB included on their plans.
This shift isn't always apparent even to the phone companies themselves. When I enquired earlier this year about why Telstra took so long to offer usage metering on its prepaid 3G broadband, the answer was that the software was also used for prepaid phone users, who were never interested in data, merely in how much money was left on their account. I suspect that will gradually change over time.
What might take longer to change is what we use our smart phones for. Less than half the respondents (41%) had actually installed an application on their phone, and half of those hadn't downloaded more than five applications. And within that field, by far the most popular choice was to download a game, selected by 82% of application installers. By comparison, search applications had been picked by just 54%. The figures were very similar when considering paid applications: 84% of paid apps were games,
Now, on one level it's not surprising that games dominate the list. Many of the core productivity apps most people use (the browser, email client and calendaring) are already present on standard phones, and many people will never bother to seek out alternatives. That finding is consistent with data from Telstra last week, which suggested that within on-phone browsers, we're much more likely to carry out practical activities. There's also a sensible upper limit to the number of productivity apps that any one person might need, whereas it's dangerously easy to install a bunch of games, especially if they're free or near-free.
Nonetheless, I can't help thinking that our focus on gaming isn't great news for making smart phones more useful as productivity tools. Developers are naturally going to chase where the money is, and right now that looks like entertainment rather than efficiency. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of great apps to be had across iPhone, Android and other platforms — I just hope their numbers continue to grow.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman knows that installing games can be dangerous, and promises that he only does so for research. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.