Why Don't I Use My Apps? Confessions of an App Hoarder

How many apps do you have on your phone? How many do you use daily? Weekly? Monthly? ...Ever? There are 61 apps on my phone, not including the standard system apps. If I'm feeling generous, I use maybe 6-8 apps ever. And I tried asking myself why this was? Clearly at one point I had wanted every single app that is downloaded on my phone. Some were promising of hours of entertainment, others would increase my productivity, and others my wellbeing. But what happened to them? Why don't I use my apps?

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An analytics firm specializing in mobile platforms published a report stating that 26% of all apps download are never used more than once. This number was a bit shocking to me. Not because it was so high, but because I thought it was rather low. But maybe I'm just picky. I'm already extremely selective of the apps I download in the first place and yet, why can't I continue to utilize the ones that I have?

To begin, some apps simply don't require frequent use. For instance, I think my Flashlight app is quite handy, yet don't find myself needing it except for an extremely rare circumstance but it's nice to have when that comes up. Another infrequent yet handy app is UPS's. I rarely have packages shipped to me via UPS but when I do, it's tracking feature is quite handy. I don't really consider these a problem to save on my phone because when they do come in handy, I'm glad to have them.

But the others... well, I can't explain those away quite easily. And they're not just apps from a single category. They span many. The myAT&T app... I might have used that twice to check my account balance. Or the Everyday app which reminds me to take a photo every day. I haven't used that in months. And as I scroll through my pages of apps, I feel a bit guilty -- as if they were pets and needed some kind of satisfactory "play time" with me. I think I really need to lighten my load and delete the ones I don't use. But why don't I use them?

I think there are a few contributing factors to this problem. The first, and not necessarily a fault of the apps themselves but perhaps the larger pace of our digital age, I simply don't have enough time. Particularly games and entertainment-related apps but this also applies to our productivity apps as well. Despite a desire to use the apps more than we do now, we can't find time to do it. A second issue is that some apps don't do a good enough job to warrant its usage. When an application delivers the same content to you that you can receive from a website, the trick is to make that content delivery easier and more efficient in some way. Or else you're better off just accessing the information straight from the web. So if it's a weather app, it should use GPS tracking to automatically establish your location and instantly give you the weather data, rather than having to manually input your zip code on the web. I think a final factor, strangely enough, is that there are too many apps available.

American psychologist Barry Schwartz (who we've posted about before) believes that too much choice can actually have a debilitating effect rather than a positive one. We can become overwhelmed with possibility and are unable to not only find the best available answer, but also are inevitably regretful of whatever choice we make, as we're always aware that there could have been a better option somewhere out there. I'm not entirely sure how I would alleviate this problem because we certainly don't want to discourage developers from creating new apps and we don't want Apple to be more selective in filtering what goes on the App Store. But maybe it's just something to think about...would you be keeping better track of your calendar, or remembering where your car is, or editing your photos more if you knew of a better app for the job?

I'm downloading iOS 5 today and debating whether I want to use this opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew with a more critical eye for the kinds of apps I want to download. But we're very curious how much you use your apps. Do you contribute to that 26% of only opening an app a single time?

(Image: Flickr member sneeu licensed for use under Creative Commons.)