By the end of 2011, Nielsen predicts that the majority of mobile subscribers in the U.S. will have smartphones. With their rich features and capabilities, these devices have been fertile ground for the growth of mobile apps. As of June 2010, 59 percent of smartphone owners and nearly 9 percent of feature phone owners report having downloaded a mobile app in the last 30 days.
While all categories of applications are more popular on smartphones than on feature phones, Nielsen’s App Playbook notes that the difference is more pronounced in categories such as Maps/Navigation, where more computing power, larger screens and touch interfaces deliver a more satisfying experience.
When it comes to the popularity of individual apps, Facebook reigns supreme on all smartphone operating systems.
Nielsen’s App Playbook study further shows that Games continue to be the most popular category of apps for both feature phone and smartphone users alike. Sixty-one percent of smartphone owners and 52 percent of feature phone owners report using a game app in the past 30 days. Weather apps are the next most popular category. Travel as a category falls short, with 20 percent of smartphone users and 13 percent of feature phone owners having used a travel app in the past 30 days (travel apps fall between video/movies at 21 percent and food /drink at 19 percent in popularity for smartphone users).
This is not to say that the apps are not being used by travelers or the travel industry—we can assume that many of the apps for weather, maps, dining/restaurant, etc. are being used by travelers. Still, with the growing significance of apps as a medium, it'll be important for the travel segment to make a strong impact early. Twenty percent isn't bad, but it's probably all going to the usual suspects: Expedia, Kayak, Travel Zoo... the industry needs to get some creative thinking going beyond simple booking tools and come up with cool reasons for people to download their apps.