The number of adult wireless smartphone owners who have downloaded an app nearly doubled in the past two years, from 22% in September 2009 to 38% in August 2011, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The most commonly downloaded apps, downloaded by 74% of downloaders, were those which provided regular updates about everyday information such as news, weather, sports, or stocks.

Also popular were social apps that help people communicate with friends and family (67% of downloaders and learning apps (64%) of apps.

“While mobile apps are a fairly new approach to accessing online content, the main functions they fill for users are the same we’ve seen with previous technologies—namely information gathering and communication,” notes the report's author Kristen Purcell. “It’s too early to know if, by providing instant, direct connections to information, apps are a game changer. While they are a significant change from using search engines and web browsers, the basic functions apps fill are not revolutionary.”

The researchers also found that the typical adult app downloader tends to be younger, more affluent and more highly educated than the average adult.

Other interesting facts from the Pew Survey include:
  • When adults whose phones came preloaded with apps are also accounted for, fully half of U.S. adult cell phone owners (50%) now have apps on their phones. In May 2010, that figure stood at 43%.
  • Among the 10% of adults who currently own a tablet computer, three-quarters (75%) report downloading apps to their tablet. This translates to 8% of all U.S. adults.

Discuss all forms of app usage in Digital Home's Smartphone and Tablet Computing forum .