Report: Smartphone Owners More Comfortable Sharing Location than Getting Notifications

A new report from comScore contains a range of interesting data — even frightening from a certain perspective — about mobile and app usage. As has been true for roughly two years, mobile eclipses time spent on the desktop. But digital media time is increasingly concentrated in a small number of apps.

Time spent with mobile is now 62% vs 38% for the desktop. Most of that 62% is spent in apps (nearly 90%).

While the mobile web offers greater reach to publishers and brands that audience is fleeting and not very engaged. It now almost goes without saying that the most loyal and engaged audiences are app users. Yet acquiring and especially retaining app users is complex and extremely difficult.

On average, comScore reports, US mobile users engage with 25 apps per month. But most time is spent in a user’s top three apps (80%). Beyond this, fully half of monthly app time is spent with one app. Think about that.

app time spent comscore

The study is full of interesting findings and data like this. However I want to focus on two findings around notifications and location. These are two potentially “sensitive” areas for users.

Notifications are generally regarded as a powerful mobile marketing and engagement tool. They’re discussed as a key tactic to activate and retain users. However a majority of app users are ambivalent or hostile to them.

comscore notifications

The comScore data above reflect that one-third of the smartphone audience is happy to receive notifications, 36% is selective and just under a third is hostile to notifications. This is a half-full/half-empty scenario: a notifications booster could read this as saying that a majority (69%) are open to receiving notifications or a detractor could argue that 67% of the audience is ambivalent or hostile to notifications.

By comparison smartphone users seem to be somewhat more comfortable sharing their location. While 31% of respondents said they didn’t want to share location with apps, 42% said they were OK doing it and a middle group (28%) was neutral.

comscore location

There’s a difference here potentially. Location sharing is more likely to be a case-by-case judgment call, with some apps (e.g., maps and local search) providing obvious value in exchange for location. In the case of other apps, such as news sites, games or non-mapping utilities (e.g., flashlights), the connection between app content and location is more dubious.

Notifications for many will also be case-by-case but more often than not they don’t add value and are intrusive. In a travel context (your flight is delayed) notifications can be extremely valuable. The value of notifications extends to a few other use cases and contexts.

More often than not, however, developers and publishers have not been thoughtful and failed to deliver much value through notifications. Instead they’ve seen it as a marketing tool for themselves and failed to think through the matter clearly from a user perspective.

Admitting my bias here, I turn off notifications for all but a tiny minority of apps.

Stepping back, the comScore report makes abundantly clear that publishers, retailers, brands and developers must have a multi-platform strategy with apps at the center. Yet having an app is not enough (obviously). Apps must offer a compelling user experience or they will be rejected by users.

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