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Much is made of the sheer size of each mobile platform’s library of third-party apps. iPhone and Android ring up totals in the hundreds of thousands. And certainly the size increases the likelihood that you’ll find some obscure app that captures your attention for five minutes.

But we actually spend a significant amount of time in very small percentage of the apps available to us, according to a Nielsen study released this past week. The top 10 Android apps account for 43 percent of the time that Android users spend using mobile apps, according to the data.

Although the research focused specifically on Android, I have a hunch it would hold true for mobile users in general, and it’s consistent with my own experience across a variety of devices.

Apart from the core email, text messaging, photo, browser and calendar apps on my iPhone, I could go for long stretches without using anything but Twitter, Facebook, an RSS reader, a music app and the occasional game.

The study is good news  for Microsoft, which has a mere 28,000 apps for Windows Phone but has covered essentially all of the basics, at least in my usage of the Microsoft platform.

Here’s the big question: If you could have only five apps on your phone (beyond the core utilities), what would they be? (Think of it like desert-island discs for mobile phones.)

More on the study, including time spent in mobile apps vs. the mobile web, in this Nielsen blog post.

Also see this post by Rachel King on ZDNet: Study proves app stores are basically useless.

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