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What influences the kinds of apps you use? Insight's Dr Ella Peltonen has some answers

What factors influence the apps you use? Mobile devices and apps have become an integral part of everyday life. There is an app to support practically any kind of activity be it well-being, education, health, or leisure. Smartphones have become hugely popular across the world, and thanks to a wide range of pricing options, they are affordable to most populations.

A new paper from researchers at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at UCC, University of Helsinki, Lancaster University and University College London provides insight into global populations and the type of apps they use. They have found that the country a person lives in is the single most important factor when it comes to influencing the kinds of apps they use. 

Dr Ella Peltonen of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics says, “We wanted to study factors that govern usage of the mobile apps, particularly the role of geographic, demographic, and cultural values. We carried out a large-scale analysis of geographic, cultural, and demographic factors in mobile usage. We studied the data of 25,323 Android users who used 54,776 mobile applications in 44 countries across Europe, Americas, Asia and Oceania.”

What the researchers found

English-speaking countries, including the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, along with Japan and South Korea had the highest app usage across the board. This is probably due to the fact that almost all apps have an English language version. In addition, many services and businesses in the USA and Europe have dedicated apps which boosts usage in these regions.

Ireland is closer to the group nicknamed “European” countries which include Continental Europe, as well as Southern and Central European and Nordic countries. These countries have lower app usage than the English-speaking countries, but higher than “Mixed” countries (see below). Thailand and Singapore also fell into the “European” group for app usage, possibly because they are popular holiday destinations for Europeans.

The lowest app usage was in the “Mixed” group of countries: Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and India. In these groups, application usage in general was slightly lower than in the other groups, but higher in Sports and Racing Games.

How do the culture and values of a country influence the apps its population uses?

Hofstede’s cultural value survey provides a widely used, if not perfect, way to present cultural values of the population. In the study, the researchers compared Hofstede’s five factors to countries’ app usage. They found that "masculine" cultures (with more pronounced gender roles) like Japan prefer Personalization apps, while "collectivist" cultures and those with more fluid gender roles such as Russia seem to value Family related categories, Education games, and Parenting. “Individualist” cultures such as the US favoured Entertainment applications and other leisure related categories, such as Travel and LocalSportsHealth and Fitness, and Music and Audio.

What effect do socio-economic factors have on mobile usage?

Socio-economic factors play an important role. The study shows that occupation, education, and how much a person has in savings, are the next important factors in determining what apps a person will use. Those factors trump age and gender, for example. People of similar socio-economic status tend to use their smartphones in a similar way across the globe. This is particularly true for people of similar household status (living with or without children) who tend to use smartphones in a similar way. This is also true for professionals and well-educated people.

Dr Mirco Musolesi, who leads the UCL Intelligent Social System Lab (UCL Geography), says: “Previously studies have not focused on geographic and cultural factors behind app usage, instead choosing to focus on usage patterns and behaviour.

“Our research highlights that even if mobile communications and hyper-connectivity are a global phenomenon, the country we live in plays a huge part in determining our app preferences. Understanding how and when people use phones, and which apps they engage with, is important for the study of individual behaviour and society at large.”

Dr Peltonen says, “The results of our work show that there is a strong relationship between the type of apps people use and their geographic and socio-economic factors, suggesting that these different factors should be taken into account when studying mobile data. In addition, our results can be used to better target mobile apps in different countries, and for personalization.”


The article “The Hidden Image of Mobile apps: Geographic, Demographic, and Cultural Factors in Mobile Usage” is a collaboration work between University of Helsinki, Finland, University College Cork, Ireland, Lancaster University and University College London, UK. The article will be presented and published in the 20th International ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (ACM MobileHCI 2018), on September 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. Pre-print of the article is available in

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