comScore last week released its 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report, a look at what apps young people were using and how those apps were being used. Recode has a couple good stories about the study, including which apps are most popular with which demographics and how Google and Facebook dominate the lists of top apps. There are couple things that jump out at me, though, when considering the larger narrative presented in these stats.
Net Neutrality is Essential For the Future
The fact that Google and Facebook account for either nine or all 10 of the top apps in every demographic group should be incredibly disconcerting, Pandora being the only exception in two of the four buckets. That means those two companies, which aren’t answerable to any sort of public commission or group that ensures the public interest is being served, are the primary touch points to the web for most people. A lot of power is controlled by just those two companies, enough that it could…I don’t know…sway elections if it were misused.
Both Facebook and Google have insisted on a laissez faire approach from government and other groups, insisting that we trust them despite the lack of transparency either provides into how news is filtered in their systems, how search results are determined and more. And that’s *without* actual systems that help to keep them at the top of the heap by stifling innovation among upstarts.
Right now those upstarts, many of which wind up being bought by either of those two or a handful of other companies, may be the only thing keeping them in check. If rules stripping away net neutrality concepts were put in place and only the biggest were allowed to survive, the monoculture that results from such a system would only grow bigger and more dangerous. That may sound like hyperbole, but remember that our government has only been curbed at times by a viciously free and open press. If these two companies – or any two others – are allowed to consolidate more power, democracy withers even further.
App Homescreens are the New Trapper Keeper
This is slightly less serious than the first point, but two things struck me regarding the aesthetics of the mobile experience: Young people won’t tolerate bad app icon design and they like to keep their home screen clean, with most preferring to organize all but a few chosen apps into folders.
That says to me that they see their home screen as an extension and representation of themselves, their personality and their “brand.” They want that home screen, should someone else see it, to convey a particular message about their preferences and habits. Those screens are carefully curated in the same way the brands people follow on social media, the stickers they put on the front of their laptop and other public displays are.
So there should be a lot of pressure on app designers and companies as a whole to make that cut. Just like my parents’ generation was very picky about what, if any, bumper stickers were added to their cars, young people today are very picky about what apps they want to access regularly. While there’s a stated antipathy toward push alerts, those are more essential when apps are nested in this way since they might serve as the only reminder to the user that the app is still active. That can mean either with a company continuing to push new content or as a statement that the social network is still being actively used by a relevant group of people.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.