The evolution of cellular phones into smartphones and Internet-enabled handheld computing devices has created an ‘apps culture,’ but only a minority of U.S. cell phone users are really taking part in it, according to the Pew Internet Project’s latest research. The Center’s analysis of the survey results should give telecompetitors and other wireless service providers, as well as mobile app developers and equipment manufacturers, some things to mull over.

A testament of just how ubiquitous mobile phones have become, 8 in 10 US adults now own a cell phone, and 23% have “cut the cord” in their homes, forsaking land lines and relying on cell phones alone for voice communications.

Thirty-five percent of all U.S. adults — 43% of those that have cell phones — have mobile apps on them. Only 24% of U.S. adults are active app users, however. Twenty-nine percent have downloaded apps to their cell phones while 38% have purchased cell phones with apps preloaded.

Only 2/3 of those with apps on their cell phones actually make use of them. The average adult has no less than 18 apps on his or her cell phone. The median is 10, “indicating there are heavy apps users on the high end of the response scale who have a disproportionate number of apps on their phones,” the study’s authors note.

Those that qualify as ‘active apps users’ — 24% of the US adult population — tend to be “younger, more educated, and more affluent than other cell phone users. They also skew Hispanic when compared with other adult cell phone users,” according to the Pew Center study, which was based on a national sample of 1,917 adult cell phone users.

“Older adult cell phone users in particular do not use the apps that are on their phones, and one in ten adults with a cell phone (11%) are not even sure if their phone is equipped with apps,” according to the Pew Center analysis.

And apps “still rank relatively low when compared with other non-voice cell phone activities,” according to the study. Taking pictures (76%) and texting (72%) rate well above use of mobile apps. Accessing the Internet (38%), playing games (34%), emailing (34%), recording a video (34%), playing music (33%) and instant messaging (30%) also ranked above app usage (29%).

The report also presents findings regarding the popularity of various mobile apps from The Nielsen Company’s Apps Playbook survey, which during December 2009 took a non-representative sample of 3,692 adult cell phone subscribers who had downloaded an app in the previous 30 days.

Entertainment and information services predominate. Games (60%), news/weather (52%), maps/navigation (51%), social networking (47%) and music (43%) made up the top five apps. Entertainment (34%), banking/finance (28%), sports (27%), productivity (26%), shopping/retail (24%), video/movies (22%), communication (21%) and travel/lifestyle (18%) followed. Some 57% of those surveyed said they used their apps daily, the large majority for less than 30 minutes a day.