Quantcast's new report shows that the market for apps is a vast wasteland where social is all that counts

By James Robinson , written on May 16, 2014

From The News Desk

Yesterday, Quantcast released its latest report, looking at how we’re discovering content on mobile. Given that it draws from web traffic data from the more than 100 million sites Quantcast monitors, it is one of the more comprehensive pieces of research out recently into how the mobile web is changing the media landscape.

Lurking in Quantcast’s report were interesting takeaways that put numbers to things we could already guess at -- mobile is changing how we relate to content -- but puts an intriguing new spin on things. Apps are changing the mobile web, but just a few of them. On the mobile web, social media rivals search for content discovery. Mobile web use is surging in North America, but not as much as it is internationally.

We’ve already given apps a lot of credit for being dominant on mobile, but they might be more dominant than even that. Apps are said to eat up well over 80 percent of our time on mobile, depending on who is doing the measuring. However, according to Quantcast’s report, almost a quarter of all mobile web traffic is a result of a link that we clicked on when inside of an app.

The explosion in the market for apps is a false illusion. Of the one million apps for sale on both Android and iOS, Quantcast found that only 1,000 of them (just one tenth of one percent) have more than 50,000 users. We may think that the New York Times app is what keeps us reaching for our phone, but eight out of the top 10 apps are social media tools. According to Quantcast 83 percent of people use less than 10 apps regularly. Basically, the market for apps is a small cluster of social media tools and shopping apps that we use a lot, surrounded by a vast wasteland of crap we never get to.

On mobile, social media is challenging search as a way to discover content. On desktop, 49 percent of referrals to the largest 250 publishers come from search results and 13 percent come from social media. On mobile, the gap closes; 47 percent of referrals are from search and 27 percent are from social media. Looking only at the largest news and entertainment sites the gap is eliminated. On mobile, 34 percent of news and entertainment referrals are from social media (with Facebook owning 70 percent of this) and 33 percent are from search.

Mobile browsing and social media referrals are becoming a crucial part of any site’s traffic. Quantcast saw that 13 percent of websites get over half of their traffic from mobile now, while two-thirds of sites saw more than a quarter of their traffic from mobile. Social media referrals were not evenly distributed. A quarter of all websites get more than 50 percent of their referrals from social media, while more than a half saw less than a quarter of their referrals from social.

In North America, mobile web traffic still only accounts for less than one-fifth of all web traffic, lagging far behind certain parts of the world. Eighteen percent of all web traffic comes from the mobile web in North America, which is a massive increase from just 1 percent five years ago, but well behind leaders like Saudi Arabia (38 percent), Japan (34 percent) and South Korea (30 percent).