GSMA, the organization behind the Mobile World Congress, commissioned research in January that showed mobile apps generally beating the browser for time spent. The research had a global scope and was performed by European mobile analytics company Zokem.
However apps vs. browser access differed by category according to the findings:
News, search and commerce apps and sites receive much more usage still from mobile web browsers, with 86%, 85% and 66% of mobile web browser users using them monthly. Only 22% of web browser users access web-based email services, and only 18% use games through a web browser. For email, native apps reach 76% of smartphone users monthly, and games reach 45%.
Multimedia related services, like online music and video, are predominantly used through native apps rather than a smartphone web browser. Apps and web browsing usage patterns, therefore, are quite different, and the usage balance between browsers vs. native apps is driven by the type of app in question.
Mobile apps are responsible for 667 minutes of use per user each month according to Zokem. Compare messaging (671 minutes), voice (531 minutes) and web browsing (422 minutes).
Social networking apps (the category is not clearly defined) consume "almost 10 percent of all smartphone 'face time.'" Facebook and YouTube are the most heavily penetrated social media apps. (I disagree with YouTube being characterized as social media.)
The study found that iPhone and Android owners used roughly 15 apps per month; BlackBerry and Nokia owners used about half that number (8). The iTunes store and Android Markets enjoyed 95% reach with their users, while Blackberry App World has 50% reach and Nokia's Ovi store reached less than 30% of Symbian users. The data also showed that "iPhones generated more than 200 percent more traffic per month on average than Android devices."
Contradicting some other data and claims in the market the study found smartphone usage declined on weekends but "averaged more than 70 minutes per day with apps capturing more face time than any other activity at weekends."