If you work in technology or digital marketing, you probably take it for granted that mobile apps are a mainstream phenomenon. But is that really the case? Sort of, according to a new Pew Internet telephone survey.

According to the survey, 35% of adults in the United States have applications on their phone. That’s a fairly big number.

But of that group, only two-thirds actually use those apps. That’s still a fairly large number, but in the overall scheme of things, Pew Internet’s Rise of App Culture report notes that using an app is still the least popular non-voice activity that takes place amongst mobile phone users. Whereas 29% of adults with mobile phones use apps, over three-quarters use their mobiles to take photos.

Not surprisingly, in some groups, apps usage is much higher. For instance, “the apps user population skews male, and is much younger, more affluent, and
more educated than other adults
“. That’s to be expected, and over time, app usage should rise as younger mobile phone users who grew up with apps become older mobile phone users.

But the Pew Internet study, which was conducted with Nielsen, does raise an important question: are we on the brink of an ‘app culture‘, or are we looking for an app culture? From a technology and marketing standpoint, there’s little doubt that applications like those you’ll find on the iPhone and Android mobile devices present some of the greatest and most interesting opportunities yet in the mobile space. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that these are the most voluminous opportunities.

The risk for businesses, entrepreneurs and marketers is that the expectations (or hype) around mobile applications will encourage overinvestment in a market that still only reaches a relatively limited segment of the overall mobile market. While there’s nothing wrong with an investment in mobile apps, and such investments may be prudent, it’s worth considering that the opportunities presented by the mobile culture that most certainly exists today can only be maximized with a mobile strategy that looks at apps as one piece of the pie, not as the pie itself.