Do You Have Too Many Unused Cellphone Apps?

Published: Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 3:01pm
Updated: Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 4:13pm
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How many apps have you downloaded on your phone? Any idea?

Ten years ago, the App Store icon debuted on the iPhone. At the time there were 500 apps total. Today, there are more than 2 million apps available.

Having so many choices can lead to digital hoarding — downloading and keeping apps you don’t need or use. Stan Horaczek says having too many apps can do more harm than just taking up space.

Horaczek is the technology editor for Popular Science and The Show talked with him about his latest article addressing unused apps.

CHRISTINA ESTES: It has been 10 years since the App Store icon debuted on the iPhone. At that time, there were 500 apps total. Today, there are more than 2 million apps available. Having so many choices can lead to digital hoarding, downloading and keeping apps you don't need, don't use. Stan Horazcek says having too many apps can do more harm than just taking up space. He's the technology editor for Popular Science and we talked via Skype about his latest article addressing unused apps.

STAN HORACZEK: Apps make a lot of promises. You know, it's funny. If you go through the pages in my apps, you can sort of look at the phases of my life. You can see all the the New Year's resolutions that I've made, you know. You can see the food tracking apps and the organizational apps from when I was trying to get myself in order, and I think there's a lot of that, where we think that, you know, we prepare them and it's the same for people who hoard objects, where they think to themselves, well I might need this later, so I can download it now and then I'll have it later on, you know. It seems very easy to do because these are digital objects. They don't take up space in a real literal sense.

ESTES: Now your article in Popular Science mentions a report last year that found the average person launches roughly 9 apps a day. Did that seem like a lot or a little to you?

HORACZEK: You know, I review a lot of smartphones and I see a lot of smartphones and I get to, you know, mess with the new latest and greatest smartphones. It's funny to me because the first thing I do is set up the same group of apps on every phone that I use, and I feel like that's what most people do. They use Facebook and texts and Instagram and, you know, maybe Snapchat, although that's less. You know, we sort of do the same things. We have these habits that we use and it's really hard for an app to break into that inner circle of apps that we use all the time. There's a couple of other studies that say the average person uses, like over the course of a month, we'll use roughly 30 apps or a little bit less than that, and that sounds about right to me because there are certain ones you don't use all the time, like your bank app you probably don't open all the time, but you probably do open it once a month when the bill is due.

ESTES: So I think that you say that, based on average usage, we would only need like one page of apps on our phone.

HORACZEK: Yeah that's true. So, I mean, I have an iPhone 8 plus. That's what I use in my personal life, and I think it's 25 apps that fit on that first page. We don't really need many more than that. When you look at your phone, sometimes you can be, you know, this decision paralysis, where if you want to make something — if I want to make a list or if I want to make something with photos, like, it can be too much to look at all the apps that are on my phone and say I don't know what to do, so then you just, you know, fall into these patterns where you just open up the Facebook app again.

ESTES: If the average person just uses, basically, like one page worth of apps, I wonder how many apps you have on your phone.

HORACZEK: Let's see. I'll grab my phone right now. If you go through, I have right now, before I do the call, I have eight pages of apps, which is too many. I guess that's, what, almost two hundred apps, I guess?

ESTES: Okay Stan, your whole article is talking about why people need to get rid of some apps, so why is it so hard? Why do you have eight pages, and why is it so hard for people to get rid of them?

HORACZEK: I think, you know, it's in my brain, it's in my, sort of, my family history that we've always sort of saved things, you know. We say, oh we might need this down the road, you know, and I have games on there that I haven't played that I think to myself, "What if I'm on a plane and I want to play this game and I don't have a connection?" It's just — I remember when I used them and I remember them being useful, and it's hard for me to get rid of them. Although now, I'm in the process of going through and taking my own advice and calling them down because it's not free to keep those apps on there. For one, it takes up a lot of storage. You know, some of those apps are hundreds of megabytes, you know, even if you don't know. In the article, we sort of explain how you can go into your settings and it will show you how much space each app is taking up. Some of them are taking up a lot of space on your device and, you know, that sucks when you run out of space, you know, because you have these apps that you're not using. That's just not a very efficient way to use your phone and it leads to a frustrating experience. One of the other downsides to keeping a lot of apps around is that if you don't think about an app and you don't use it, there's a good chance that you're not going to update it. Out-of-date apps are not secure, you know. The reason that a lot of times they update apps is because they add new security. They find out there are flaws and they fix them. So if you don't have auto updates turned on and you're not using an app, there's a good chance it's just going to sit there, and then the next time you open it, you're going to be using an out-of-date piece of software that might have some sort of fundamental flaw in it that could actually harm your device or, you know, make you vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

ESTES: Is there a good system to sort of purging apps?

HORACZEK: Both Google and Apple, in their next versions of their mobile operating systems, are making this digital wellness idea, like, at the forefront of their software. What that's going to do is it's going to tell people how much time they're spending in apps and how much time they're spending using their phone, and the idea is that it will help people use their phone less and, you know, be more present in their own life. But as a byproduct of this, it's also going to tell you what apps you're not using on your phone, and just having that information, being able to say like, wow I downloaded the Delta app, you know, two years ago when I took one flight and it's just been sitting on my device taking up space. You know, maybe it's time to delete that and, you know, clean up your phone a little bit.

ESTES: Alright Stan, take your own advice. I want you to tackle those eight pages of apps. Stan Horazcek is technology editor at Popular Science magazine. Thank you so much for your time.

HORACZEK: Thanks for having me.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Stan Horaczek's name.

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