Mobile Consumer Culture – Analysis of the US Smartphone Consumer Market

This report covers why people prefer smartphones over other digital devices, how it keeps them connected, drives their productivity and makes them feel happy as well as grateful about the device.

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Smartphones: The Most Valued Digital Device
  3. Smartphones: Still not as important as people, pets & memories
  4. Smartphones: Keeping people connected, productive, and happy
  5. Smartphones: Driving Mobile Consumer Culture

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List of Charts

  1. US consumer digital device ownership – 2013 vs 2014
  2. US consumer digital device ownership by demographic
  3. US consumer most valued digital device – 2013 vs 2014
  4. US consumer most valued digital device by demographic
  5. US consumer’s perceived importance of people & objects
  6. Consumer’s perceived importance of people & objects by gender
  7. Consumer’s perceived importance of people & objects by age
  8. US consumer emotional response to life with a smartphone
  9. US consumer emotional response to smartphone by age
  10. US consumer smartphone usage by purpose
  11. US consumer smartphone usage by purpose and age group
  12. US consumer smartphone usage by location
  13. US consumer smartphone usage for news and community info
  14. US consumer smartphone usage for local commute
  15. US consumer smartphone usage by everyday reason
  16. US consumer smartphone usage by reason across age groups
  17. US consumer feeling towards smartphone ownership and usage
  18. US consumer smartphone usage during an emergency
  19. US consumer problems caused due to lack of smartphone
  20. US consumer device ownership & usage by age group
  21. US consumer growth in digital time spent by device 2010 – 2014
  22. US consumer time spent on content category by device
  23. US Smartphone Gamers and Search Users
  24. US Smartphone Social Networking Usage – Facebook & Twitter
  25. US Smartphone Video Watchers and Music Listeners

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Introduction

The US mobile consumer culture, driven by increasing ownership of smartphones and tablets, is being shaped by people of all age groups as Millennials (78%), Generation X (79%) and Baby Boomers (75%) are equally likely to say they value smartphones more than any other digital devices.

Despite ranking smartphone as the most valued digital product, consumer still value their relationships over gadgets proving that the mobile consumer culture is not driven by an unhealthy addiction to gadgets. Consumers rank their grandmothers (81%), pets (64%) and photographs (52%) above smartphones (47%) and tablets (22%) as being important in their lives.

A common reason behind the ‘mobile addiction’ narrative is driven by the fact that people use their smartphone almost everywhere – at home (99%), at work (69%), during their commute (82%), while waiting in line (53%) or even in public spaces (51%) where they are expected to interact with others. However, people aren’t mindlessly using their smartphones at these location but accomplishing important tasks such as getting health related information (62%), managing their finances (57%) or looking up job information (43%).

Smartphones are proving to be reliable and necessary tools in both everyday situations as well as emergencies. People use smartphones to coordinate meeting others face to face (80%), remember tasks that need completing (74%), seek assistance during a road mishap (50%), and get directions or find an address when lost (25%). As a result they find smartphones helpful (93%) instead of annoying and report that it makes them feel free (70%) instead of on a leash. More importantly, smartphones have helped people connect better (72%) instead of distract them from people and events around them.

It is safe to say that we live in a mobile culture where people value smartphone because they enjoy its benefits and not because they are dependent on the device. A key aspect of this culture is the growth of mobile only user driven my young millennials. Consumers also increasingly prefer tablets and smartphones to desktops and laptops when it comes to images, games, social media and everyday tasks like looking up maps, weather and news. This report will reveal that in today’s mobile culture people prefer smartphones because it keeps them connected, drives their productivity and makes them feel happy as well as grateful about the device.

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Smartphones: The Most Valued Digital Device

Section Summary

As mobile device (smartphone and tablet) ownership increase in the US to surpass desktops and gaming console, mobile culture is no longer dominated by young millennials. Generation X and Boomers have emerged as key participants of the US mobile culture and declare smartphones as their most valued digital device ahead of desktops, laptops and televisions.

Key Data Highlights
  • Smartphone ownership increased from 65% of consumers in 2013 to 71% in 2014, surpassing desktop ownership (66%).
  • Younger millennials (14 to 25 year olds) lead smartphone ownership with 86% of US consumers in the age group owning a smartphone just ahead of older millennials (26 to 31 year olds) among whom 84% own the device.
  • Generation X (32 to 48 year olds) has caught up to millennials in smartphone ownership with 82% of consumers in the Gen-X demographic owning a smartphone.
  • Tablet ownership in the US crossed the halfway mark in 2014 reaching 54% of US consumers – up from 48% in 2013.
  • Generation X leads tablet ownership with 65% of 32 to 48 year old consumers owning a tablet – ahead of younger millennials (58%) and older millennials (48%).
  • Smartphones were ranked as the most valuable digital device by 76% of US consumers ahead of laptops (71%), flat screen televisions (62%) and desktops (55%).
  • Smartphones are the most valued digital device among consumers of all age groups – younger millennials (76%), older millennials (78%), Generation X (79%), Baby Boomers (75%) – except Matures (65%) who value desktops (86%) and flat screen televisions (80%) more.

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Smartphone ownership surpasses desktop as half of all consumers own a tablet

Tablet ownership in the US crossed the halfway mark in 2014 reaching 54% of US consumers – up from 48% in 2013. Tablets weren’t the only mobile devices to register growing ownership figures. Smartphone ownership increased from 65% of consumers in 2013 to 71% in 2014, surpassing desktops to become the third most owned digital device among US consumers.

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Desktops fell out of the top three devices owned as its ownership figure declined from 71% of consumers in 2013 to 66% in 2014. Another victim of smartphone and tablet’s rise in ownership was the gaming console – down slightly from 58% ownership in 2013 to 56% in 2014.

Surprisingly flat screen televisions registered a sizable growth in ownership from 76% of consumers in 2013 to 82% in 2014 – matching the ownership figure of laptops at 82%. Both laptops and flat screen televisions hold the top position among devices owned by US consumers ahead of smartphones and desktops.
The growth in ownership of flat screen televisions comes despite the slight decline in ownership of gaming console. However, it could have be driven due to the growth of OTT box ownership which enable consumers to watch shows and movies from Netflix and Hulu on their television sets. OTT box ownership grew from 17% in 2013 to 18% in 2014 while DVR ownership fell from 51% in 2013 to 50% in 2014.

At the same time, portable streaming thumb drives also experienced a growth in ownership from 7% in 2013 to 9% in 2014. Thumb drives serve as a combination of portable storage device and mobile multimedia hotspots that enable data sharing and wireless streaming of multimedia.

2014 also marked the emergence of fitness bands and smart watches as new consumer oriented digital devices. By the end of the year 9% of US consumers owned fitness bands and 3% owned a smart watch.

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Generation X catches up with millennials in smartphone and tablet ownership

Younger millennials (14 to 25 year olds) are the leading demographic in smartphone ownership with 86% of US consumers in the age group owning a smartphone just ahead of older millennials (26 to 31 year olds) at 84%. While smartphones have been a popular device among young people, older members of Generation X (32 to 48 year olds) have caught up to millennials in terms of ownership number. In 2014, 82% of consumers in the Generation X demographic owned a smartphone.

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Generation X continue to adopt digital devices as they become the leading demographic in tablet ownership with 65% of consumers in the 32 to 48 age group owning a tablet – ahead of younger millennials (58%) and older millennials (48%). In fact Baby Boomers (49 to 67 year olds) are more likely to own a tablet than older millennials with 50% of Boomers owning a tablet.

Generation X also lead in ownership figures when it comes to DVR (56%), OTT box (25%) and portable streaming thumb drive (12%). With above average ownership of DVR and OTT box, Generation X have emerged as the leading television consumer of our time since they are just behind matures (68 and above) in flat screen television ownership at 86%, compared to 87% for matures. Millennials, on the other hand, seem to prefer watching their shows and movies on laptop where ownership figures are at 91% among younger millennials and 87% among older millennials – highest among all age groups.

Older millennials (26 to 31 year olds) have emerged as early adopters of new technology with 11% of consumers in the age group owning a fitness band and 6% owning a smart watch. However, both Generation X and younger millennials are just behind them with 10% of Generation X consumers and 9% of younger millennials owning a fitness band. Interestingly, among Baby Boomers fitness band ownership is also at 9% – the same proportion as that in younger millennials showing a highly functional device that appeals to lifestyle values can be relevant across age groups.

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US Consumers value smartphones above all digital devices

Despite the dominance of laptops and flat screen televisions in terms of ownership, US consumers consider their smartphones as the most valuable digital device of all. More than three-fourth of all US consumers (76%) ranked smartphones as the most valuable digital device they own or would like to own in 2014 – up from 72% in 2013, and ahead of laptops (71%), flat screen televisions (62%) and desktops (55%).

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It’s not just younger millennials (14 to 25 year olds) who rank smartphone as the most valued gadget they own. Older millennials (26 to 31 year olds) and Generation X consumers (32 to 48 year olds) are more likely than the average consumer to value their smartphones with 78% of older millennials and 79% of Generation X-ers ranking smartphones in the top three most valued device. In comparison, 76% of younger millennials rank smartphone as the most valued digital device.

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Even among Baby Boomers (49 to 67 year olds) 75% rank smartphones in the top three most valued devices ahead of laptops (74%) and flat screen television (70%). Matures (65 and above) are the only age group to value other devices ahead of smartphones with 86% consumers in this age group ranking desktops as one of the top three most valued device and 80% ranking flat screen televisions compared to only 65% who rank smartphones in the top three most valued list of devices.

A significant finding is that the perceived importance of tablets declined among consumers with only 31% of US consumers raking tablets in the top three most valued device in 2014 – down from 36% in 2013.

Among Generation X-ers, the most likely to own a tablet, only 32% of consumers rank the device in the top three most valued list. While older millennials fall behind Generation X-ers, younger millennials and Baby Boomers in tablet ownership, they are the most likely to rank the device in the top three most valued list at 35% of older millennials compared to 30% of younger millennials and 33% of Baby Boomers.

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Smartphones: Still not as important as people, pets & memories

Section Summary

While smartphones stand out, as the most valued gadget people own, it is not the most valued aspect of their overall life. People still value relationships over gadgets. They rank their grandmothers, pets and photographs above smartphones and tablets as being important in their lives.

Key Data Highlights
  • More than nine in ten (94%) US consumers say their grandmothers are important with a significant 81% saying they are ‘very important’. Cars (94%), pets (86%), and photographs (90%) also rank above smartphones (89%) and tablets (58%).
  • There is little difference between male and female perception of smartphones with 91% of women and 88% of men saying the device is important.
  • Consumers across all age groups agree that smartphones are important – 91% of 18 to 34 year olds, 91% of 35 to 54 year olds and 86% of 55 and above.
  • The perceived importance of tablets is higher among women (62%) than men (55%). Older consumers between the ages of 35 to 54 are most likely to value tablets (61%) followed by consumers 55 and above (59%) and younger consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 (57%).

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US consumers value their relationships more than gadgets

Despite all the media hype around technology addiction, US consumers rank their smartphones a distant fifth in a list of important people and things behind their grandmothers and pets.

Given the option between grandmothers, cars, pets, photographs, jewelry, smartphone, tablet and MP3 players, US consumers rank grandmothers as the most important on the list. More than nine in ten (94%) US consumers say their grandmothers are important with an overwhelming 81% saying they are ‘very important’. In comparison only 64% and 63% of consumers say pets and cars are ‘very important’ respectively. Clearly, consumers still value their relationships more than possessions.

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It is significant to note that more consumers value photographs than both smartphones and tablets. Overall nine in ten consumers say photographs are important with more than half (52%) saying they are ‘very important’. Photographs today are synonymous with smartphones. As such, a comparable 89% of US consumers say their smartphones are important with nearly half (47%) saying they are ‘very important’ and another 42% saying they are ‘somewhat important’. The close relationship between people’s perceived importance of photographs and smartphones is a strong indicator of the visual culture in which we live in today. People are not only taking selfies and pictures of their food but also messaging visual memes and making video calls to communicate with friends and family.

The lack of prominence in everyday communication means tablets are valued less than smartphones. Tablets have so far found their place in consumer culture as an entertainment device suitable to listen to music, watch videos, play games or browse the web. Only 58% of consumers say tablets are important with just over one in five (22%) saying they are ‘very important’. This is significantly higher than the perceived level of importance for MP3 players with only 13% of consumers saying they are ‘very important’ and overall only 39% find the device to be important. In effect, tablets have replaced MP3 players like the iPod as the choice entertainment device for consumers.

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Women and older consumers more likely to perceive tablets as important

There is very little difference among men and women when it comes to their perception of smartphones with 91% of women saying the device is important compared to 88% of men. The difference in perceived importance between men and women more than doubles when it comes to tablets with 62% of women saying tablets are important compared to 55% of men.

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The greater importance placed on tablets by women could largely be due to the fact that it is an ideal ‘private’ device to consumer media, socialize as well as browse the web for shopping among other activities from the comfort of one’s couch or bed. The private nature of tablets comes from the fact that it is both personal and can be personalized to fit the individual consumer’s preferences unlike laptops and desktops which tend to be shared with friends and family members.

While consumers across all age groups agree that smartphones are important in their lives, the share of people who value the device slightly tapers off among 55 and above consumers with 86% of 55 and above consumers saying the device is important compared to 91% each in the 18-34 and 35-54 age groups. The trend is reversed when it comes to tablets with 18 to 34 year old consumers least likely to say the device is important. More than three in five (61%) of 35 to 54 year olds and 59% of 55 and above consumers say tablets are important compared to 57% of 18 to 34 year olds.

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Smartphones: Keeping people connected, productive, and happy

Section Summary

Consumers are happy and productive in the emerging mobile culture. As a social tool, smartphones enable people to control social interactions by deciding who to meet and who to avoid. They feel more connected and less distracted. People also perceive smartphones as helpful over annoying because it enables them to access information and services with ease.

Key Data Highlights
  • Smartphones make consumers feel productive (79%) and happy (77%).
  • Smartphone using consumers of all ages report feeling productive – millennials (78%), mid-lifers (79%) and boomers (80%).
  • Younger consumers are more likely to say they feel happy about using a smartphone with 85% between the ages of 18 and 29 saying so compared to 76% among 30-49 year old consumers and 71% among consumers 50 and above.
  • Consumers feel productive about using a smartphone because it helps them perform important everyday activities such as looking up health info (62%), online banking (57%), looking for a job (43%) with ease.
  • Consumers feel happy about smartphones because it helps them with social interactions – coordinate meeting someone in person (80%) and avoid meeting others (31%). Smartphones also entertain people when alone by helping them avoid being bored (77%).
  • People associate smartphones with positive experiences – helpful (93% vs. annoying 7%), keeping them connected (72% vs. distracted 28%), and feeling free (70% vs. on a leash 30%).
  • Positive associations with smartphones are enhanced largely because of its role in dealing with emergency situations among 53% of smartphone owners and another 44% facing difficulties with activities like getting directions in absence of a smartphone.

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Smartphones make consumers feel productive and happy

Smartphones serve both a functional and emotional purpose in consumer’s lives. Consumers associate the experience of using a smartphone with feelings of productivity and happiness. Nearly four in five (79%) US smartphone owners say using a smartphone everyday makes them feel productive while a comparable 77% say it makes them feel happy.

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Driven by a growing number of apps, the smartphone has evolved from a basic communication device to become a multitasking gadget that helps consumers save time, effort and money. At the same time it has made the fundamental human behavior of communication expressive via emojis in messaging apps as well as close to our natural mode via video calling apps. While the former time saving apps make consumers feel productive about using a smartphone, improved communication with loved ones translates to positive emotions of happiness.

The emotional benefit of using a smartphone is more prominent among younger consumers, while older consumers are more likely to experience the functional benefits. Younger consumers (18-29 year olds) are more likely to report feeling happy about using smartphones compared to older consumers. More than four in five (85%) US consumers between the ages of 18 and 29 say that the smartphone makes them feel happy compared to 78% who say it makes them feel productive. The figure declines to 76% among 30-49 year old consumers and further to 71% among consumers 50 and above. In comparison, four in five (80%) US consumers 50 and above and a comparable 79% between the ages of 30 and 40 say that using a smartphone makes them feel productive. Younger consumers are likely to have larger scale networks and a more active social life making them value the communication features and social networking apps offered by a smartphone.

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Public opinion on how the smartphone affects one’s life is split showing. Just over half (57%) of US smartphone owners say using the device makes them feel grateful, and an equal share (57%) say it makes them feel distracted. Clearly the smartphone has had several positive impacts on consumer lives but people are still learning to adjust to a mobile driven consumer culture where the device not only serves as a primary communication device but also as a camera, a navigation device, a news source, and video /music player among other roles. Interestingly, consumers 50 years and above are the least likely to say that the smartphone is a distracting device. Less than a third (32%) of US consumers 50 and above say they feel distracted by the device compared to 73% of 18-29 year olds and 62% of 30-49 year olds.

One of the clearer findings of the study is that negative opinions of frustration and anger are rarely associated with using a smartphone. Just over a third (36%) of US smartphone owners say they feel frustrated about using the device while only 15% say they feel angry about it.

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Consumers use smartphone to get help with health, finance and job search

US consumers overwhelmingly report feeling productive with using smartphones is because they are using the device for vital purposes such as searching and applying for a job, getting health information, and looking up real estate listings. Health and finance are key areas where consumers turn to smartphones in times of need. More than three in five (62%) US smartphone owners have used the device to get information on a health condition. This might be searching for symptoms to self-diagnose or getting information on how a disease affects one’s wellbeing. Well over half (57%) of US smartphone owners use the device for online banking. This involves checking the balance, making bill payments, and conducting online transfers.

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Younger consumers especially millennials between the ages of 18 and 29 are more likely to use their smartphones to look up health info and access mobile banking. Nearly four in five (77%) millennials have used a smartphone to get info about a health condition, while 72% have used it to access mobile banking. However, mid-lifers i.e. consumers between the ages of 30 and 49 are only slightly behind the millennial generation in using smartphones to loo up health related information or access their bank accounts via the bank’s mobile app. More than three in five (68%) of mid-lifers have used their smartphones to get info on a health condition, while another 65% have used it for mobile banking. Older consumers are no longer laggards when it comes to smartphone usage. This is also visible in their tendency to look up real estate information on their smartphones. Overall 44% of US smartphone owners have used the device to look up real estate information. In comparison, more than half of millennials (54%) and mid-lifers (51%) are more likely than the average smartphone owner to do the same.

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A key reason smartphones are perceived as productive is because of their role in finding of and applying for a job. More than two in five (43%) of US consumers have searched for a job and/or looked up information about a job on their smartphone. Job search is a time-sensitive activity where people have to receive timely alters on new, relevant jobs so they don’t miss a deadline. It also helps that people can not only get the alerts on new jobs but also look up the job description while on the move. In comparison to the number of people looking up job information, less than one in five (18%) actually use the smartphone to apply for the job. This could largely be due to the fact that applying for a job not only require separate logins to the employer’s talent portal but also preparation of customized cover letter and resumes for each job. As such, desktops and laptops are better suited for job applications.

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Consumers use smartphones at home, at work and everywhere in between for news and commute

The emotional response of productivity towards smartphone usage is also associated with the fact that consumers use the device virtually everywhere – at home, at work, during commute, in line, at a social venue or while walking from one place to another. Home and workplace – two everyday destinations where people spend considerable amount of time – stand out as the key locations where people use their smartphones. Almost all (99%) US smartphone owners use the device at home while nearly seven in ten (69%) use it at work.

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Besides home and work, consumers are using their smartphones while in transition between the two places or on their way to a third destination. More than four in five (82%) US smartphone owners use the device in a car or inside a public transit vehicle while half of all smartphone owners use it during short distance commute i.e. when walking from one place to another. It is also common for smartphone owners to access their device during idle time to ‘kill boredom’ either when alone or in public. More than half (53%) of all smartphone owners turn to their devices while waiting in line and another 51% use the device at a community space.

Most of the time consumers access their smartphones at home, at work, while waiting in line or in a community place, they look for news or information about the local community that could be relevant to them. The top news related activity among smartphone owners below the age of 65 is to follow breaking news. Mid-life consumers between the ages of 30-45 are the most active in following breaking news on their smartphones with 75% in the age group doing so, closely followed by 72% of 18 to 29 year olds millennial smartphone owners. Even Baby Boomers i.e. 50 to 64 year olds follow breaking news on their smartphones with more than three in five (61%) accessing the device for breaking news.

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It is also common among the Boomer generation smartphone owners to share information about local events using their devices. Three in five (60%) smartphone owners in the age group share local event information with friends, family and the larger network using voice, text, messaging apps and social networking apps on their smartphones. The tendency to share local event information increases, as consumers get younger with 70% of 30 to 49 year olds and 73% of 18 to 29 year olds doing the same. The nature of event shared by consumers over their smartphones can vary from a celebration to an accident in effect making them citizen journalists at times responsible for breaking the news instead of just following news.

Young owners in the US are driving the use of smartphones in a car, in a public transit or while walking short distances. Four in five (80%) 18 to 29 year old and 72% of 30 to 49 year old smartphone owners use the device to get turn-by-turn navigation while driving and/or walking. However, smartphone navigation is catching up among Boomers as well will more than half (52%) in the age group using the device to get turn-by-turn navigation during their commute.

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Young people also drive smartphone usage for public transport with more than a third (38%) of 18 to 29 year old millennials using the device to get information on public transportation such as schedules, routes and costs compared to 24% of Mid-lifers and 16% of Boomers. In more recent times, consumers are turning to taxi apps to book a cab for their commute. Nearly one in five (17%) of 18 to 29 year old millennials drive this trend compared to less than one in five (9%) mid-lifers.

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Smartphones help people meet others they want to meet, avoid those they want to avoid and deal with boredom when alone

Being able to use a smartphone at all locations and even while on the move for news and directions plays a fundamental role enabling people to feel productive about their smartphone usage. However, it the relevance of smartphones to perform small, routine tasks in one’s everyday life that elicits deeper and meaningful emotions like happiness among consumers. One of the key reasons people are happy about their smartphone experience is because it helps them meet friends, family and others in person. Four in five (80%) US smartphone owners have used the device to coordinate a face-to-face meeting with someone on a weekly basis.

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Smartphones not only facilitate offline meetings between people but also help consumers avoid those they do not want to engage with in person. Just over three in ten (31%) smartphone owners in the US have used the device to avoid interacting with certain people around them. This behavior is more prominent among 18 to 29 year old millennials with nearly half (47%) saying they use smartphones to avoid people around them on a weekly basis compared to less than a third (32%) of 30 to 49 year olds mid-lifers. In essence smartphones are the ideal gadgets that help people control their social interactions – who would they want to meet and who would they want to avoid. It is no surprise that people feel happy about owning and using it.

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Another key reason people feel happy about their smartphone usage is because it keeps them from being bored during idle times such as waiting for a bus or at new public places where they do not know anyone. Nearly four in five (77%) US smartphone owners say that the device saves them from boredom on a weekly basis. You millennials between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely demographic to use a smartphone to avoid being bored. More than nine in ten (93%) of smartphone owning millennials have used the device to kill boredom on a weekly basis. Mid-lifers between the ages of 30 and 49 are also very likely to use smartphones to avoid being bored with more than four in five (82%) doing so on a weekly basis.

Smartphones are also lifesavers for people reminding them of deadlines and tasks they need to perform either for home or work. More than seven in ten (74%) smartphone owners say that the smartphone helps them remember things they need to do on a weekly basis. Much of this is in part due to productivity apps that help people create list of tasks or enable people to set reminders for various tasks.

People not only get news from their smartphones (55%) but also use it to get information that can settles disputes among family, friends and colleagues. More than half (53%) of US smartphone owners have resorted to looking up information on their smartphones to resolve or settle a dispute with their peers, strong evidence that smartphones don’t necessarily have to be conversation distractors but can function as conversation enablers among people.

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Consumers more likely to value smartphones after an emergency or facing trouble in absence of the device

Despite US consumers using their smartphones everywhere in an everyday context, they are quite split when it comes to labeling the device as a necessity. Nearly half (46%) of all US smartphone owners say that they do not always need a smartphone and the remaining 54% say that they couldn’t live without a smartphone.

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Consumers are likely to value smartphones as an integral part of their lives when it helps them out during an emergency. More than half (53%) of US smartphone owners have used the device to address an emergency situation. The most common emergency situation where people turn to smartphones is when facing a car related issue while driving. This could be an accident, a flat tire, a stalled engine or any other problem that requires road assistance. Half of all smartphone owners turned to the device when faced with emergency while driving. Less than one in five (14%) have used their smartphones to report a crime while a small proportion (8%) has used it during medical emergencies.

Consumers are also likely to value smartphone if they face difficulties when they don’t have the device on them. More than two in five (44%) smartphone owners had trouble doing things because they didn’t carry a smartphone with them. The most common task they struggled with in absence of a smartphone was navigation. A quarter of all smartphone owners in the US had difficulties getting directions or finding an address during instances their smartphone batteries died or they forgot to carry the device with them. Just over one in ten (13%) also struggled when trying to meet someone because they didn’t have a smartphone to coordinate the meeting or inform the other person that they might be running late.

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As consumers increasingly find smartphones to be a vital device during emergencies and for everyday activities, they are more likely to associate positive traits to the device. Already more than nine in ten (93%) of smartphone owners in the US find the device to be helpful over annoying (7%). Despite the high cost of the handset and mobile plan, they are willing to pay the price in exchange for the benefits offers. More than four in five (81%) believe their handset and plan is worth the cost compared to 19% who say it is a financial burden.

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The common belief that smartphones distract people from the world around them and at times people right in front of them is largely a myth. More than seven in ten (72%) smartphone owners in the US thing the device helps them connect with others compared to only 28% who say it is distracting. Overall, smartphones are seen as a liberating tool instead of something that people are dependent on. Seven in ten smartphone owners in the US say that smartphones give them freedom compared to only 30% who say the device is more of a leash – a clear sign that people are not ‘addicted’ to the device.

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Smartphones: Driving Mobile Consumer Culture

Section Summary

The first key aspect of mobile consumer culture is the growth of mobile only user driven my young millennials. The second aspect is the preference for tablets and smartphones over desktops and laptops particularly when it comes to consuming images, playing games, using social media services and doing other functional activities like lookup maps, weather and news. Finally, the third aspect is the growth of everyday users who use mobile for searching information online beyond users who access the device for games, social media, video and music.

Key Data Highlights
  • Mobile only consumers – those who use smartphones and tablets exclusively – grew from 9% in 2013 to 12% in 2014.
  • Mobile only usage was most prominent among millennials aged 18 to 34 with the share of mobile only consumers from this demographic growing from 18% in 2013 to more than one in five (21%) in 2014.
  • Mobile devices drove most of the growth in digital time spent over the last four years – tablets (1,721% growth between 2010 and 2014) and smartphones (394% for the same period).
  • Consumers prefer their mobile devices when it comes to viewing photos (93% of time spent with photos is on mobile), consulting maps (90% of time spent), checking the weather (87% of time spent), playing online games (87% of time spent) and using social networking services (74% of time spent).
  • There are more mobile gamers (165 million) than mobile social network users (151 million) in the US but mobile searchers will surpass both groups in 2017 reaching 196 million users.

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Consumers complement desktops and laptops with smartphones and tablets as millennials drive mobile-only trend

In 2014, more than three-fourth (76%) of US consumers 18 and above used multiple devices (desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets) in their daily lives, up from 68% in 2013. Mid-lifers aged 35 to 54 were the most likely to use multiple devices with more than four in five (84%) saying they use a combination of smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops, up from 77% in 2013, compared to 74% of 18 to 34 year old millennials.

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The share of consumers using only mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) grew from 9% in 2013 to 12% in 2014. Mobile only usage was most prominent among millennials aged 18 to 34 where the figure increased from 18% in 2013 to more than one in five (21%) in 2014. Millennials were also the least likely to use only a desktop or a laptop (down to 5% in 2014 from 15% in 2013).

The share of consumers using only desktops and laptops fell from 22% in 2013 to 12% in 2014. Consumers aged 55 and above were the most likely to use only a desktop or a laptop at 26% – down from 40% in 2013.

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Mobile devices drive growth of digital time spent by consumers

US consumer’s digital media pie continues to grow as they spend more time across tablets, smartphones and desktops/laptops. Total digital media time spent by US consumers in a month grew by 157% between 2010 and 2014.

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Most of the growth in digital time spent was driven by tablets, which saw an increase of 1,721% in consumer time spent between 2010 and 2014. Tablets were followed by smartphones where time spent increased by 394% for the same period. Consumer monthly digital time spent on desktops and laptops increased by only 37% in comparison.

Tablets are largely used by consumers at home over a wireless connection compared to smartphones which have to rely on mobile data connections when outside. Lack of worry over exceeding data limits coupled with the larger screen makes consumers more relaxed encouraging them to spend longer sessions on tablets compared to smartphones – whether it’s watching long form streaming videos, reading a book, browsing through online stores or playing games.

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Mobile beats desktop & laptop in photo, game & social media consumption

Consumers prefer their mobile devices when it comes to viewing photos (93% of time spent with photos is on mobile), consulting maps (90%), checking the weather (87%), playing online games (87%) and using social networking services (74%).

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In contrast to desktops, consumers carry smartphone on their person at all or most times during the day. Smartphones are ideal to view photos and access social networks because both are activities that keep consumers updated on what their peers are up to. Maps and weather are functional features used on the go well suited for mobile. Consumers usually play games to kill time during commute once making smartphones the ideal gaming device as well.

Desktops are frequently used to access online portals (73%), business/finance related information (70%), entertainment news (61%), and other multimedia content (61%). All the activities are time intensive requiring consumers’ attention making desktop and laptops a better-suited device.

Interestingly, when it comes to consuming content related to shopping, consumers spend almost the same amount of time on mobile devices (49%) as on desktops/laptops (51%). Online shopping is no longer just browsing and buying. Consumers increasingly today look up reviews, video demos, store location and contact information among other things on their mobile.

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Emerging tribes of the US Mobile Consumer Culture

Mobile consumers, specifically smartphone users, fall into various tribes based on the content they consume. Mobile gamers, mobile searchers, mobile social networkers, mobile video watchers and mobile music listeners are the five biggest tribes by size. Consumers don’t exclusively belong to one tribe but overlap across multiple tribes.

Gamers are the largest tribe among US smartphone owners with 63.9% (i.e. 164.9 million people) expected to play mobile games in 2015 – up 11.7% since 2014. The mobile gamer tribe will continue to grow in the US over the next four years with gaming penetration increasing to 76.5% among smartphone users in 2019.

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The fastest growing mobile tribe, however, is the mobile search tribe which is expected to grow by 17.8% in 2015 as 157.3 million (61%) smartphone users go online using their handsets to search for products and services among other things. The mobile searchers tribe is driven by a need to get information on health, jobs, real estate, weather, news, and driving directions among other things that make their everyday life more manageable. The number of people using mobile search will surpass the number of mobile gamers in 2017 making search the top mobile content consumed among US mobile phone users. Nearly 8 in 10 mobile phone users (78.8%) will use the device to conduct an online search in 2019.

Mobile social networkers, those who use smartphones to connect, nurture, and expand their groups of friends, family and acquaintances, have been one of the largest tribe in mobile consumer culture. In 2014, the proportion of mobile phone users accessing social networks on their device crossed the 50% mark to reach 136.4 million smartphone users – up15% since 2013.

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The mobile social networker tribe will continue to grow – though at a gradually declining rate – because social media remains a popular mobile content category among American mobile phone users. The growth rate is expected to fall down to 10.9% in 2015 and a mere 2.8% by 2019.

One of the reasons behind the declining growth rate is the rise of mobile messenger apps like Snapchat as well as anonymous social networks like Yik Yak that allow consumers greater control over who they connect with (and don’t connect with) as well as how their content gets shared.

The slow growth of mobile social networking is also caused due to increasing usage of the smartphone as a media consumption device specifically to view videos and listen to music. Apps like YouTube, Spotify, Netflix and Hulu that stream songs as well as videos help consumers turn their smartphones into instant media outlets. The mobile video watchers tribe as well as the music listeners’ tribe will cross 100 million users in 2015 – growing by 13.8% and 14.8% respectively.

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The growth of mobile video and music already hit its peak in 2014 and 2013 respectively as mobile data plans continue to become more expensive and restrictive. Though the growth of mobile video watchers and music listeners tribe is expected to slow down over the next four years falling to below 5% growth, both content categories will account for half of all smartphone users in the US by 2019.

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References

  1. Digital Democracy Survey: A multi-generational view of consumer technology, media and telecom trends, Deloitte, 2015
  2. YouGov Omnibus Survey, YouGov, 2015
  3. US Smartphone Use in 2015, Pew Research, 2015
  4. US Digital Future in Focus 2015, comScore, 2015
  5. Mobile Content and Activities Roundup, eMarketer, 2015

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