Native data applications, such as those installed on smartphones like the iPhone and devices running Android, now account for 50% of all mobile data volume according to a new report from Finnish mobile analytics company Zokem. In a global smartphone study released this month, the company found that while the mobile Web browser was still the most popular smartphone "app," the use of native apps outside the browser is growing faster than mobile browsing itself.

Native Apps Account for 50% of Data Volume

The study analyzed over 10,000 smartphone users and 6.5 million smartphone application usage sessions in 16 countries during 2009 and 2010 to arrive at its conclusions - so this is not a case of a big headline built on top of a small case study. This is a very real trend, but one that's probably not all that surprising to those who have been watching the mobile industry closely.

According to the study, nearly all smartphone users with a data plan launch their mobile Web browser at least once a month and, on average, spend 300 minutes browsing the Web on their device, a figure that's comparable to mobile voice usage.

But while the browser is the most popular of all smartphone apps with 54% of data application time (time spent interacting with the app) and 50% of data volume, native applications (excluding the browser itself) now capture 46% of data application time and 50% of data volume.

Twitter More Engaging than Facebook on Mobile

Another interesting finding involves the usage trends of the most popular native applications, like Facebook and Twitter, for example.

The study found that Facebook's native application is used by 12% of active smartphone users who engage with the app for 188 minutes, on average, per month. Meanwhile, Twitter has a smaller monthly user base (only 4% of active smartphone users) but they average 311 minutes per month on the app.

Why Native Apps?

Only a few years ago, says Zokem founder Dr. Hannu Verkasalo, smartphone Web browsing accounted for 70-80% of mobile Internet use, but now that number is shrinking in terms of relative use. (It's still growing in absolute terms, he notes, but apps are pushing its relative share down.)

The trend towards increasing use of mobile apps over the Web browser is due to the fact that, in most cases, apps provide the best user experience, explains Verkasalo. "Take your Android phone as an example. Do you want to access YouTube with your browser if you have a shortcut on your home screen for the brilliantly working native YouTube app?", he asks.

These trends don't necessarily mean all hope is lost for proponents of Web-based, cloud-computing type applications, however. It just means that Web-based applications will likely be more attractive to an end user if they're packaged in a native wrapper. But with a number of development platforms and operating systems available today, including Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian, Palm's webOS, Windows Phone and Java for feature phones, developers often have to pick and choose which platforms they can afford to "go native" on and which will have to make do with a mobile website instead.