There’s an old adage in tech circles that startups should build products that are painkillers — not vitamins. As the argument goes, pain — not pleasure — drives people to change their habits. So what’s the biggest painkiller on mobile? It turns out it may be local applications, according to a new report from Pew Research.
The report, which was published earlier this week, offers an in-depth look at America’s infatuation with smartphones, detailing new insights into the activities we do most frequently on our devices. The results reveal a mobile consumer who turns to their device for media in moments when the want to recede from the world and local applications, navigations and local search, when they want to actively engage with it.
That’s not a revolutionary concept, but the findings are particularly acute among millennials. Of smartphone owners aged 18-29, 93% said they used their smartphones to avoid being bored; another 47% said they used their phones to avoid others; and 57% said they used their device to get somewhere.
When millennials recede into their devices, they turn to text messaging, Internet and social media more than anything else. According to the study, a little over 90% of smartphone owners between ages 18-29 said they used social media at least once over the course of the study, compared to a little more than half for those older than 50.
When they look to engage with the world, they turn to maps. Four of five millennials said they use turn-by-turn navigation on their device compared to less than 40% of those aged 65 and older. What’s more, 17% of millennial smartphone owners said they have e-hailed a car or taxi using a service like Uber or Lyft.
But the question remains: what’s the painkiller and what’s the vitamin. The relationship between these two became clear when smartphone owners were asked what tasks they have trouble completing without their smartphones.
Of the 44% of smartphone owners that reported having trouble doing something because their phone wasn’t with them, the most common situations dealt with navigation, coordination, and accessing information. A quarter of smartphone owners said they relied most heavily on using their device to get directions or find an address while 13% said they were most dependent on the device to meet up with someone else or let them know they were running late.
The takeaway here is that adoption and time spent are not the only metrics to measure the role of an application in our mobile lives. Often, its the applications we cannot live without that stick around the longest and the services we trust most to provide us with suggestions, recommendations or advertising messages.
Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.