This is a collaborative post.
It’s no secret that the world is in love with the smartphone. Twenty years ago, if you saw somebody hunched over something they were holding in their hands, you’d assume that they were short-sighted. Today, it’s just the norm. Everyone has that characteristic “phone hunch,” bent-double like old beggars over their devices, entranced. It’s universal.
How Much We Love Our Smartphones
If you were a time traveler from the past, you might wonder what the heck was going on. Your first thought might be something like, isn’t a device that compelling dangerous? The more you explored it yourself, however, the more you’d discover that phones are more than just tools that provide information and entertainment; they’re a fundamental part of modern life. People rely on their phones to do the work of dozens of machines, many of which have now gone by the wayside.
The popularity of smartphones is truly staggering, as the following statistics make eminently clear.
The Popularity Of Smartphones
Pew research suggests that more than 77 per cent of the adult population now owns a smartphone, up from just 35 percent back in 2011. The rise in the penetration of smartphones as a consumer technology has been faster than just about anything before it. Television, for instance, took a good half-century before achieving universal ownership. The internet and washing machines both took much longer to reach more than three-quarters of the eligible market. The smartphone, however, despite the expense, is the most rapidly-adopted piece of tech ever.
There is, however, a big difference between smartphones and their predecessors in the consumer electronics space: their level of engagement. Consumers don’t like to admit that they find their smartphones compelling, but the truth is that they do. Smartphones are more than an amalgamation of technology: they’re habit-forming.
It wasn’t long ago that workers would sit at their desks and type for three or four hours, interrupted by distractions. It was the norm. Today, though, with the rise of smartphones, that’s become less frequent. Employees often sit with their phones upturned on their desks, waiting for the next notification to come through. Some of the time, these notifications are relevant to their work. But in the majority of cases, they are Twitter updates that have nothing to do with the task in hand.
Attitudes to phones are also changing as they grow in popularity. When smartphones first came out, there was a large cohort of people still arguing that people should switch their devices off on public transport and even while walking down the street. However, as smartphone penetration has increased, that argument has waned, and now practically nobody advocates it.
Mobile phones are becoming increasingly socially acceptable in situations where they never were before. Five percent of employees, for instance, claimed that being on your smartphone was socially acceptable during a meeting. Thirty-eight percent said that it was fine to whip out your phone at a restaurant. And 12 percent said that it was okay during a family dinner.
What Are Consumers Using Their Smartphones For?
We know that people use their smartphones a lot. We can see it with our eyes, but what do the data say that they’re using them for.
More Time In Apps
Back in 2014, the news broke that people were spending more time browsing the internet on mobile devices than on desktop. It was a significant change that marked a watershed in consumer preferences. That statistic, however, hid an even more game-changing nugget of data; for every minute that a smartphone user spends in mobile browsers, they spend more than six minutes in apps.
Many people want to know what it is that they’re actually doing. Are people simply addicted to social media, or are they using their devices for other purposes?
Google says that the biggest way that people use their phones outside of work is for shopping. Data from Flurry Analytics suggests that mobile shopping growth has increased by more than 30 percent per year for the past few years, underscoring the importance of mobile e-commerce apps that make the shopping experience smooth.
Professional services firm Deloitte has also done a bit of its own number crunching. It says that around 31 percent of people stream films to their mobile devices, 45 percent use them to listen to music, and 57 percent have a news app.
None of this should be taken as a sign that social media is not essential. It is. The data show that around seven out of every ten people spend more than 80 percent of the time that they spend on social media. What’s more, message open rates on Facebook exceed more than 90 percent, which is much higher than on practically any platform in history.
People Would Prefer To Be Without Their TV Than Their Smartphone
There’s no doubt that TV has had an enormous impact on the way that modern people live their lives, and even today, it remains one of the most powerful advertising tools, despite the internet. People love their TVs.
However, when questioned which they’d rather have if they had to choose a smartphone or a TV, the vast majority of people said their smartphone.
Reports from organizations like Digital Dependency show how much people now rely on their devices. According to the data, 37 percent of people check their smartphones before going to bed. If you just look at the population under the age of 35, that number rises to an impressive 60 percent of people.
The younger generation is the most addicted. People between the ages of 15 and 24 spend more than four hours per day on their phones, compared to around 2 hours and 49 minutes for adults. What’s more, young people check their phones much more often than older cohorts, checking in with Facebook and Twitter once every 8.6 minutes or so.
For many people, there’s a genuine concern that without their phone, they’re “cut off.” In the past, people coped perfectly well, exploring their environments by themselves. Today, however, our devices tether us to the rest of society, no matter where we go. Our friends and family expect us to take our devices with us, “just in case anything goes wrong.” Thus, no matter where we are, we’re contactable.
We Spend Less Time Making Calls
One of the reasons why the SMARTY network can offer unlimited calls is because people make fewer voice calls than ever before, despite spending much more time on their phones.
Outgoing calls on mobile phones dropped by 1.7 percent in 2017, cementing a trend that’s been underway for years. Smartphone penetration is going up, but we’re using our devices for calls less and less. Most people now rely on messaging services, which, when you think about it, is strange. You can communicate much more via a regular phone call than you can a text conversation, and yet messaging remains far more popular.
Despite the moniker “phone,” only 75 percent of users said that making voice calls was an essential function of their phone. Ninety-two percent, by contrast, said that being able to browse the internet was crucial.
The Young Explain The Rise Of The Smartphone
While the smartphone has penetrated all strata of our society, it is really the young who are driving it the most. Data from Pew and other agencies suggest that the smartphone is just a tool that allows young people to access the internet, wherever they happen to be. People between the ages of 16 and 24 now spend more than 34.3 hours per week on the internet or an entire average working week. They want to message their friends, play games, do shopping, follow sports, and manage their money, all through a single device.
By far, the most prominent activity on mobile is messaging and social. Data from Flurry Analytics suggests that it has grown by more than 300 percent year-on-year, thanks to new populations coming online in Asia. More than two billion people now use Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp (also owned by Facebook). Customers use social media for more than just talking to friends too. Increasingly, they’re using their Facebook accounts to access customer service reps directly, instead of having to go through third-party channels, simplifying the process.
Up until now, email has been the business communication tool of choice. For instance, if you book tickets, you’ll get an email through to your regular inbox. Social media, however, is upending that by providing ticket confirmation to user feeds.
Whether what we’re seeing is a good or bad thing remains to be seen. There’s no doubt that smartphones offer people tremendous utility, allowing them to do everything from banking to ordering a pizza. There is a concern, however, that mobile phones are tapping into ancient dopamine response pathways, hijacking our brain circuitry. Researchers fear that checking smartphones every few minutes is something that will lead to more mental health problems and an inability to connect with the world around us.
How these fears will play out remains to be seen. We wait to see what the science says.