In a New York Minute: Mobile-Device Usage Habits Changing Quickly

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.

Not long after ditching my (mostly) unloved Blackberry for an iPhone, I found myself answering a personal email on my iPhone while sitting at my computer. Ludicrous, I thought! I’m one-fingering it on a 3.5 inch screen while my full-sized computer and keyboard are right in front of me!

A year later, I offered a neighbor my netbook after fire destroyed much of her home. Her response? “No, I’ve got my phone. But thanks!”

It turns out my experience isn’t all that unusual. As smartphones penetrate deeper into our economy – having earlier this year passed the 50% threshold for all US mobile subscribers – and tablets become more prevalent each month, it is becoming increasingly important for marketers and content producers to understand the device preferences of their audiences. Consumers are not just showing a preference for certain devices for specific activities, but are engaging more frequently in “dual-screening.” While this normally takes the form of web surfing on one device while watching television on another, it applies to any simultaneous engagement with multiple devices, such as choosing to use your smartphone for Facebook while reading news on your tablet, or surfing the internet on your laptop. (As a matter of fact, “dual-screening” or “second-screening” involving television has become so widespread that Nielsen just announced yesterday that it has teamed up with Twitter to establish a “social TV rating” system to be available for the fall 2013 televsion season.)

Below we look at some of the numbers emerging as market research companies study these trends. But we also want to know your experiences in this area, so take time to start or join a discussion over at our blog post on this topic!

A Few Trends

Has this happened to you yet? At some point you’ve been so tired, or so engaged with your smartphone as an internet device, that when you needed to make a call you stared at it blankly, trying to remember how to make a call? Don’t feel too badly: a UK survey found that phone calls are only the fifth-most-popular thing we do with smartphones. We use them more frequently for browsing the internet, social networking, listening to music, and playing games.

And preferences are emerging in some areas. According to a survey of smartphone and tablet users in July 2012 by Prosper Mobile Insights, mobile-device owners have a clear preference—at 63%—for those devices over laptops or desktops when it comes to using Facebook; using personal email or Google each garner over 50% when preferences for smartphones and tablets are combined.

Mobile’s share of internet page views, while still somewhat low in absolute terms at 13% of total page views in August 2012, has doubled over the past year. With smartphones now accounting for over two-thirds of new mobile phone purchases, the proportion of total Net pages viewed with mobile devices will continue to increase steeply. The Pew Internet Project reports that over half (55%) of adult cell phone users now use smartphones to access email and/or the internet, an increase of 12% in one year and 24% in three years.

Then there’s the app-versus-browser issue. No distinct preference has emerged, with 54% reporting the use of apps and 53% reporting they use mobile browsers. But perhaps most important is the growth of what Pew calls cell internet users who go online mostly using their smartphone. This audience will most likely see your emails and internet properties only via a mobile device. Pew notes that these users “are considerably less likely than the ‘cell-occasionally’ group (those who go online using their phones but who usually use some other device) to own a desktop or laptop computer, to own an e-reader device, or to have a broadband connection at home.”


chart: mobile cell usage

Do Device Habits Matter in Marketing?

The device choice of your audience changes the experience of your online properties, as well as the chance that your message will be seen. The algorithms used by search engines distinguish between mobile- and non-mobile-based searches, and adjust the results accordingly. And whether your audience will stick around once they have found your content will likely depend upon the experience your internet property – whether an app, a website, or a Facebook page – provides the mobile user.

Next month we’ll explore in more detail what these trends mean for your marketing plans.

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About NSI Partners

A digital marketing company with almost two decades of experience, NSI Partners helps clients achieve robust results in search marketing, social media, and other digital marketing spaces.

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