What do employees actually do on their work phones?

Let's talk about the most popular apps for iPhone and Android, how they impact data usage and what you can do about it.

February 5 2018 by

Joel Windels

A woman's hands holding a smartphone

A brand new work phone ought to be a blessing. Of course, it’s great if you’re given the latest model along with completely free rein over how to use it and license to isntall whichever popular apps you desire. But the reality is that most businesses quite rightly expect users to use their phones responsibly and apply mobile content filtering – which is surely fair enough.

That means not using your phone for 4K downloads of the latest Blade Runner movie while vacationing in Australia. It probably also means avoiding adult content or anything that might be considering NSFW.

The line does get blurry in places, however. LinkedIn is mostly a professional tool, but it’s a social media platform notorious for job hunting and InMail-hungry recruiters. So should it be allowed on work devices? If so, what about Facebook or Twitter, for example? The answer to these kinds of questions, of course, depends on the specific culture of your organization and a myriad of other factors: sector, role, geography and so on.

The following analysis was designed to showcase how employees are using their work-assigned devices in 2018, drawing from a sampled dataset of 100,000 corporate iOS and Android devices.

The most popular apps on Android

There are multiple ways of looking at the popularity of different apps – the simplest of which would be to simply look at the install count of each one. This analysis looks from an altogether different angle. Instead, only those apps that were opened in the last month are counted as being "used." So yes, you might have Google Music on your phone, but if you never open it, does it make a sound? Philosophy aside, it’s with this methodology in mind that we present the most popular apps on work-assigned Android devices. It’s also worth noting that certain apps were removed (e.g., app stores, settings and other apps that cannot be removed).

  1. WhatsApp
  2. Calendar
  3. YouTube
  4. Maps
  5. Chrome
  6. Gmail
  7. Google Play Music
  8. Camera
  9. Photos
  10. Hangouts

WhatsApp reigns supreme on countless numbers of work phones, underlining how useful it has been to workers finding simpler and more effective ways to communicate. Whether this means employees are using WhatsApp to communicate to one another, to personal contacts or perhaps even to clients remains unanswered. The rest of the top ten most popular apps on Android devices is made up exclusively of Google-owned services, which is probably no surprise as many of these are pre-installed on the device. So what about when the non-Google applications are removed? For each of these apps, we'll look at what share of devices used them in the last 30 days.

  1. WhatsApp – 73.5%
  2. Facebook – 42.5%
  3. Messenger – 36.4%
  4. Uber – 34.8%
  5. Instagram – 34.8%
  6. Skype – 31.5%
  7. Excel – 30.4%
  8. Word – 29.4%
  9. OneNote – 27.7%
  10. PowerPoint – 27.3%

The data becomes far more interesting through this lens. While a whopping three-quarters of employees are regularly using WhatsApp, the official Facebook app is used by less than half – with most of those also using the separate Facebook Messenger app. This could well be due to blocks and policies put in place by IT admins that consider Facebook to be inappropriate for use on work devices. These controls may or may not extend to browser access, meaning some employees may still be getting their social fix using Chrome or something similar. Facebook-owned Instagram also slots in at number five in the list of most popular apps for Android users, with Microsoft productivity tools like Skype and OneDrive making up half of the top ten.

The most popular apps on iOS

Just under half of businesses in the UK and US use Android, and a similar proportion opt for Apple’s offering. It makes sense then to complete this analysis for iOS devices. Here are the top ten most popular apps, as defined by the same approach taken for Android.

  1. Google Maps
  2. Numbers
  3. Pages
  4. Keynote
  5. iTunes
  6. iMovie
  7. WhatsApp
  8. Safari
  9. GarageBand
  10. YouTube

Remarkably, one of the most popular apps used on iOS is actually a Google-owned property: Google Maps. This follows a minor furor a few years ago when users were dismayed at Apple’s own offering. WhatsApp again appears high on the list of popular apps, although not as prominently as is the case for Android users. This could be as a result of the alternatives provided natively in iOS, such as iMessage, or the comparatively smaller market penetration of WhatsApp in the US, where iOS is more prevalent (compared to the rest of the world). Another Google service, YouTube, completes the top ten most popular apps on Apple devices which is otherwise made up of Apple-owned apps.

Here’s another list of the most popular apps on Apple devices, this time with the Apple services removed. We again look at the share of devices using an app within the last 30 days.

  1. Google Maps – 64.3%
  2. WhatsApp – 41.4%
  3. YouTube – 39.0%
  4. Facebook – 29.3%
  5. Uber – 28.5%
  6. Messenger – 28.5%
  7. LinkedIn – 23.6%
  8. Concur – 21.1%
  9. Spotify – 19.7%
  10. Chrome – 19.0%

Here, WhatsApp’s popularity comes into sharper focus, with social media apps like YouTube, Facebook, Messenger and LinkedIn all making their way into the top ten most popular apps. Wildly successful transport app Uber sits in the top 5, as it does on Android. Microsoft’s services are nowhere to be seen, however, with fewer than 1 in 5 corporate iPhones making use of Office, Skype or OneDrive. Concur’s expense management app joins music app Spotify in the penultimate two places, and interestingly Google’s Chrome browser proves a choice for those dissatisfied with the Apple-provided Safari.

Where is data being used?

Opening an app once a month doesn’t necessarily constitute heavy usage. Here’s a quick look at how much mobile data is being consumed by each category – this time across both Android and iOS combined. We'll match each category with the average employee usage per month.

  1. Video & Photo (e.g., YouTube) – 424 MB
  2. Technology (e.g., Office 365) – 248 MB
  3. Social (e.g., Facebook) – 234 MB
  4. App Stores (e.g., Play Store) – 142 MB
  5. Navigation (e.g., Maps) – 94 MB

Those familiar with the file size of videos will be nodding their head in agreement at this table. The most common consumer of data by far is through video usage, with employees using an average of over 400MB per month on these popular apps. It’s also helpful to remember that this is just the mean – some users will be consuming far in excess of that.

Data cost management is certainly something to think about for cost-conscious organizations. App stores, navigation and technology apps are probably more acceptable ways for employees to use data, suggesting a more likely business use case than for social media.

What can businesses do to control usage of popular apps?

Essentially, enterprises must be aware of how work-assigned devices are being used. These mobile phones and tablets are a perk for most employees and should be used responsibly. With GDPR around the corner, understanding not just which applications are installed, but which popular apps are actually being used is critical to an effective and compliant mobile strategy. That will include activity undertaken within the browser, as well as when connected to public WiFi or using a 3G/4G network. Identifying risky activity or mobile app leaks will be just as important as managing rising data consumption and the associated costs that come with that.

Find out how Jamf Data Policy can help you control what and how much content your employees access on work devices.

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