Categories: Findings General Mobile

Browsers AND Apps

We recently completed some interesting research on mobile browsers and apps. We asked 12 people in the Bay Area to tell us when, how, and why they are using browsers and apps on mobile phones. We also counted instances of browser and app use. What did we find?

App usage heavily outweighed browser usage. For most participants, their browser usage was a fraction of their app usage. Participants told us apps were quick, easy, and absorbing. “I was always lured by the ease of the apps,” said one.

What was the browser good for? Completeness. There were some information needs that apps couldn’t meet. This was especially true for quick searches (finding stuff). For example, one participant wanted to find out whether a club admitted people under 21. Another participant needed to learn the number of prisons in California for a class. A third looked up how to restore his Windows 7 system after it crashed.

What does this suggest for future Firefox Mobile development? Apps and browsers are not in opposition– they meet different information needs. Both are important. Browsers are really good with the ad-hoc search queries that come up in daily life. We can concentrate on optimizing the browser for these search use cases. How can we help users find what they are looking for in a way that is as fast and easy as apps?

4 comments on “Browsers AND Apps”

  1. Stephan wrote on


    Allow me to add that there is at least one user that prefers an app for searches,
    but still heavily relies on Firefox Mobile to browse bookmarked web sites when away
    from a computer.


  2. Nicholas Nethercote wrote on

    Asking 12 people in the Bay Area a question is pretty meagre and unrepresentative “research”, IMO.

    1. Mary Trombley wrote on

      To clarify, this study was an in-depth, qualitative look at a small group of non-technical smartphone/tablet users. We followed all the users for a week, asking them to do activities and answer questions every night. We also tracked their use of browsers and apps daily. At the end of the week, we followed up with an in-home interview.

      We actually have a group of students in northern Europe replicating this study. I am curious about their results: will they match ours?

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