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Seven in 10 Americans ages 50 and older own a smartphone, says the AARP in new research [pdf], and those Americans are most likely to use their devices for messaging. In fact, almost 9 in 10 smartphone owners of this age send or receive instant messages or emails on their devices, per the report.

There are several other activities performed by a a majority of smartphone owners ages 50 and older on their devices. These are:

  • Getting directions or traffic information (77%);
  • Downloading or purchasing an app (69%);
  • Visiting websites or surfing the internet (64%);
  • Getting news and other information (62%); and
  • Accessing a social networking site (60%).

Not far behind, almost half (45%) use their smartphone’s voice-activated assistant.

Virtually all smartphone activities are performed to a greater extent by owners in their 50s than those ages 70 and older. That’s especially true for shopping activities, whether they be comparative shopping for deals and discounts or actually making a purchase. For example, while close to half (45%) of smartphone owners in their 50s make purchases on their devices, that figure plummets to fewer than one-fifth (19%) of device owners ages 70 and up.

Overall, smartphone owners in their 50s perform on average about half (8.7) of the 17 activities listed, while those 70 and older average more than three fewer activities (5.3).

Moreover, of the 17 activities identified, those in their 50s take or share the lead in all but one. That one exception is managing or receiving medical care, which is more apt to occur among smartphone owners in their 60s (33%) than those in their 50s (27%) or 70+ (21%).

The use of smartphones for healthcare will become more important as the large number of Baby Boomers in the US increasingly enters retirement age. As a recent study from Adobe points out, almost half of US traffic to consumer health information sites comes from smartphones, and visits from smartphones are growing at the expense of tablet and desktop visits. This means that as providers adapt and tailor their experiences accordingly, educating those who are not as comfortable on their devices will be a key priority for the healthcare industry.

Which Types of Apps Are Most Popular?

The AARP study notes that the most frequently used types of mobile apps generally reflect the activities that are popular on smartphones and tablets.

As such, the apps used weekly by most smartphone and tablet owners are emails apps such as Apple Mail, Gmail and Outlook (68%). More than 6 in 10 mobile device owners ages 50 and older likewise use internet browsers (63%) and weather apps (63%).

The only other types of apps used weekly by a majority of mobile device owners ages 50+ are social media apps (58%) and photo apps (57%).

Notably, news apps are used by one-third of mobile device owners ages 50 and older. Previous data from comScore indicates that older app users over-index the overall app audience in their use of news apps.

Not too surprisingly, mobile device owners in their 50s are more likely to use several types of apps on a weekly basis than older device owners, per the AARP research. However, the disparities aren’t always as great as with smartphone activities in general.

Nonetheless, those in their 50s show a much greater proclivity than those ages 70 and older to use app types including social media, photo, maps and navigation, calendar, music, and video or movie streaming.

Mobile device owners in their 50s and 60s show more consistent usage patterns, though the younger bracket is significantly ahead in its weekly usage of internet browsers as well as finance/banking apps and video/movie streaming apps.

The full report is available to view here [pdf].

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 1,520 US adults ages 50 and older.

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