NEW YORK: Mobile applications are continuing to rise in popularity in the US, with social networks being among the main beneficiaries of this trend.

Nielsen, the research firm, surveyed 4,200 mobile phone owners, and found that 21% of this group had downloaded an app in the previous 30 days.

More specifically, the smartphone subscribers on the company's panel displayed substantially higher levels of uptake than their counterparts with more generic feature phones.

The average iPhone housed 37 of these tools, falling to 22 for devices based on Google's Android operating system, 14 for Palm handsets, 13 for Windows Mobile phones and ten for Research in Motion's BlackBerry.

Of the smartphone users that had accessed a new application in the period covered by Nielsen's study, two-thirds had chosen a free or paid-for game.

A further 55% had opted for maps and navigation services, while 54% had utilised the mobile extensions offered by social networks like Facebook.

Totals fell to 38% for downloads in the entertainment and food category, 31% for banking and finance, 30% for sports news and information, 29% for retail and 21% for travel and lifestyle.

However, only 25% had taken the same route in order to view video content and films, indicating that considerable progress is still required before this activity enters the mainstream.

Facebook was the favourite app for iPhone owners, with 58% of this audience using its mobile app in the last month, followed by the iTunes music platform on 48% and Google Maps on 47%.

While Facebook retained pole position among social networks across all smartphones, MySpace was "hugely popular" with teens and LinkedIn was especially attractive to 25–44 year olds.

Amazon and eBay led the way for retailers, with a smartphone penetration rate of 57% and 41%, according to Nielsen.

Separate figures from comScore have revealed that 69.6 million people in the US employed an application on their phone in April 2010, an increase of 28% year-on-year.

Within this, social networking experienced the strongest growth, delivering an uptick of 240% as 14.5 million visitors logged on to these Web 2.0 properties in this way.

News applications saw an expansion of 124% as 9.3 million Americans kept up to date with current affairs and the weather while on the move.

Overall, 80% of smartphone owners accessed apps in April this year compared with 78% – or 73 million people – surfing the net on their mobile phone.

Some 10.3 million consumers conducted an online search on the mobile web in this period, with 5.9 million viewing photo- or video-sharing sites and 2.7 engaging in m-commerce.

Mirroring the trend for apps, social networks were the category exhibiting the strongest performance, up by 90% as 30 million members of these sites sent messages and browsed content on their phones.

Elsewhere, 13.2 million bank account holders monitored and made payments via their handsets, an improvement of 69% compared with April 2009.

Online retail also saw an increase of 47% as 7.3 million potential customers browsed products using the mobile internet.

Data sourced from Nielsen/comScore; additional content by Warc staff