My colleague Meredith Heard put together a really interesting post last week illustrating how the use of NPR's different platforms varies by time of day. In that post and in some mobile trends I shared earlier this summer, the importance of the NPR News iPhone app becomes plain to see: it has more users than any other mobile platform at any given hour of the day and page views on the app make up the majority of all NPR mobile page views.
NPR's mobile web site, meanwhile, has about a third the number of visitors in any given hour and not nearly as many page views per month.
Makes sense, right? The iPhone app is sexy and easy to use. The mobile web, well... we like to think our mobile site is pretty good, but the experience lacks the same polish as the iPhone app.
But here's the interesting thing about the NPR mobile site: it actually has more unique visitors in a typical month than the iPhone app does. In fact, last month there were 30% more visitors to the mobile site than to the iPhone app. The iPhone app, on the other hand, had over 4 times as many page views.
Those facts— that the iPhone app has many more page views per month, yet fewer visitors than the mobile site— are easy to reconcile. The app experience is simply much smoother and more conducive to browsing. The fact that the mobile site is being viewed by fewer people than the iPhone app at any given time yet has the bigger unique audience is a counterintuitive finding, though. It would appear that those hourly users on the iPhone app are more likely to be the same folks checking in more frequently, whereas the mobile site's hourly audience is likely to have a higher composition of new visitors, with the number of people it's reaching slowly growing as days and weeks go by.
The comparison is actually a good illustration of the strengths and weaknesses of open versus closed mobile systems. The mobile site, of course, has the benefit of being on the open web. It can be linked to from other places and can therefore attract a more diverse audience. The app has to be downloaded; the act of using it in the first place indicates a level of familiarity with and affinity for NPR. That fact, coupled with the increased ease of use, leads to deeper engagement per user. But a potentially new NPR fan and station listener can't be brought into the app with something as simple as a click on a link.
Matt Gallivan is Research Manager, Digital in NPR's Audience Insight & Research group.