State of the mobile economy in 2014
Studies on mobile and tablet usage show that, between 2008 and 2012, internet adoption has increased massively at a global level. The total number of users reached 2.4 billion in 2012, a massive growth from the 1.3 billion registered in 2007. Global mobile data traffic grew by 81%, nearly 18 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000 (Cisco survey).
Moreover, 91% of people own a mobile phone, 56% of people own a smartphone, 50% of mobile phone users use their devices as their primary Internet source and most of the time spent on their phones is to activate or use an app.
As for tablets, one thing is certain: their growth has been more rapid than that of smartphones, which isn’t at all odd, if we think that they’re almost as universal as notebook PCs nowadays.
But enough with the numbers. It’s clear to all of us that there’s more wireless hotspots than trees on the surface of the earth or that, soon enough, more people will have internet access than those who drink proper water. What we’ll try to look at is how people use their smartphones, their tablets and the apps they install and, more importantly, why. Which are the most popular apps among young people and which are the most preferred by adults? Which apps are used for reading news and how do men and women handle their social media content? These are some of the questions we’ve tried to look deeper into.
Smartphone statistics and tablet usage patterns
One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to smartphone and tablet usage is “where do people use their smartphones?”. Most studies in recent years indicated that usage occurs during work hours - on the way to work or during lunch breaks predominantly. Nothing spectacular, as smartphones can easily fit the pocket or the purse of their user, being a fine new substitute for the old mp3 players and a resourceful mean for staying informed.
However, it appears that 68% of time, smartphones are used at home and not at work, for what statisticians and marketers name “me-time”.
72% of the people claim that their smartphone is in their immediate vicinity most of the time, which includes situations both social and rather intimate. We’ve all witnessed couples browsing through their Facebook accounts during a dinner table or at the cinema. Some claim that their phone has been in the way of their relationship, while others are of the opinion that “that’s how things are” and they wouldn’t leave their devices for anything in the world.
In what regards tablets, the situation is rather funny: studies have shown that tablet users “lean back” while using their device. This obviously means that tablets are mostly preferred for home use (in living rooms and bedrooms), probably due to their size - larger than the smartphone, but smaller than the desktop.
We've seen where people are most likely to bring their favorite devices - that is, almost everywhere. It’s now time to see what their preferred activities are.
If smartphones are mostly used at home, then what studies coin as “me-time” comes down to watching a video, doing window-shopping or playing games. Closely following is the “socializing” part, which includes Facebook, Twitter and all other apps used for sharing news and interests or chatting with friends (SMS and iMessaging are among the most important). Shopping remains an important part of the whole equation, as does managing daily activities or personal finances and vacations. In total, “me-time” adds up to a mere 14.4 monthly hours per user, whereas “socializing” is kept within 7 hours and shopping within 2 - probably, while finances last.
A complete ranking of foremost activities is described below.
Thanks to their larger size and their light weight, tablets are preferred for web browsing, sending emails, watching videos, photos and reading. All of them “lying back”, of course.
A complete comparison between smartphone and tablet activities places gaming to a huge 64% in the case of tablets and 38% in the case of smartphones. Social networking is mostly preferred on smartphones and entertainment on tablets.
Another interesting aspect when it comes to tablet usage is that half of survey respondents claim to have them shared with their spouse, which almost never occurs in the case of smartphones.
In what regards iOS and Android, it appears that the people using the former category rely on their smartphones to send texts and to take photographs, whereas Android users prefer to talk and surf the web.
And finally, who are the smartphone users? And how do they keep up with the latest trends in mobile models? As smartphones are becoming more and more sophisticated, they offer more and more diverse functionalities that greatly surpass the primordial purpose they were built for - calling and texting. However, it appears that most smartphone users still use their devices for their two main functions, whereas only half of the users download apps and read or receive emails. More than half of those who download apps are men. Less than 5% of Americans use their smartphones to show admission codes for movies or for boarding airplanes.
Apart from these, teenagers, mothers, students - all possible categories seem to have embraced the smartphone trend. Some easier than others, as it appears that "digital immigrants" (a number of baby boomers and members of Generation X) encounter consistent usability problem. As economists claim, designers haven’t thought about providing smartphone guidelines the way washing machines or TV sets would have done decades ago. Hence, the painful trouble people still go through while timidly swiping their touch screens.
App usage patterns
Which apps lead the charts?
Although the most popular online app remains Google Maps (54%), it looks like people also use their smartphones to share info with their peers and to communicate. This is why, closely following Google, there are Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Skype (see below).
But the main apps accessed in the app stores are those used for communicating and for shopping, as a Nielsen study shows. This doesn't come as a shock, since most of us own a Facebook or a Twitter account that we update and use daily - on our mobile phones and on our desktops.
Let’s take a closer look at how people use these apps on a daily basis and how they interfere with their daily schedules.
Research shows that usage patterns differ according to the location. The Chinese seem to use apps mostly during the second part of the day, right after lunch, whereas Europeans are more active during the afternoons. Americans prefer to access smartphone apps predominantly towards the evening and all three categories peak at 9pm. This is consistent with patterns described by “me-time” and encountered when returning from work.
Entertainment, games and social networking, as distinct categories, are mostly accessed by Americans during the afternoon, whereas for news things look a little bit different: intensity is highest between 6 and 9 am - right before getting to work.
News apps, among the favourites. When and how?
It appears that, little by little, people are only getting their news digitally. This is understandable, as working environments are shifting more rapidly than the weather. People travel long distances to get to work and some of them even have several jobs simultaneously. Commuting most often means reading books or flipping through news on a mobile news reader. This is why use of mobile news apps is on the rise, as a study from AdWeek shows:
In what regards preferred devices, it appears that smartphones are best for newspaper app readers (66%) and tablets for TV news apps (58%). Also interesting are gender differences, when it comes to tablets versus smartphones: men tend to download more news apps for smartphone, whereas women stick to tablets. Tablets also seem to be preferred mostly by those above 30 - probably due to desktop-like functionalities.
Something also worth mentioning is the length of the piece read. Shorter pieces of news are preferred during mornings and at noon - probably while commuting to work and during lunch breaks, whereas longer ones are kept for the evening, when there’s more time to digest the information.
Top news apps for iPhone/iPad include APMobile, The NYT App, NPR news for iphone app, Fluent news reader, CNN Mobile and MSNBC News and for Android Engadget, CNN App for Android, Google Currents, USA Today, AP Mobile, Feedly, The Guardian. In case you were ever wondering.
Social media also used for reading news.
Many studies were conducted to determine the percentage in which social media serves people in ways other than peaking at the display of their digital friends’ lives. Conclusions were most interesting, as it appears that a consistent percentage of those who use Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ read news across these platforms. This doesn’t come as a complete surprise, does it?! Since one in 6 people owns a Facebook account, results of this study are not shocking at all: 54% of US adults get their news from Twitter, a little less from Facebook and women prefer Facebook over men (who feel inclined towards LinkedIn).
The percentage in which people are nowadays using smartphones and tablets has simply skyrocketed during the last 2 years. However, predictions for the following 5 years are even more dramatic. Cisco predicts that, by 2020, an average person will maintain 130 terabytes of personal data; on their mobile device, tablet or desktop, which will definitely need to technically comply with the new parameters.
Which brings us to another interesting prediction: by 2020, a $1,000 personal computer will have the raw processing power of a human brain.
In terms of mobile, internet speed and quantity of transferred data will probably be among the main improvements.
How all this will affect usage patterns, nobody knows. Apps will probably cover all human needs. This will lead to more time spent online, browsing, gaming, social networking and entertaining ourselves. In the end, we might see today’s proportions fully reversed.
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