Statistics and Impact of Mobile Device Usage on Businesses

By December 24, 2014Usability

Mobile device usage has grown tremendously. Research has shed light on how, why, and where people use smart mobile devices. In order to understand why there is such a big movement toward support of mobile devices, it’s important to first understand how and where they’re used, who uses them, and how they’ve managed to become relevant so rapidly.

Start with the “how” and “where” of mobile device usage.

Mobile device usage by type

Average time spent daily by mobile device type

You can see from the mobile device usage statistics reported by ExactTarget that a similar amount of time is spent daily using a smartphone or tablet. While the duration may be similar, the types of interactions are not (there’s more detail below about what activities are common on mobile devices).

Mobile device usage in shopping / retail locations

It’s not surprising that, with the amount of daily usage time reported above,

84% of shoppers use their smartphones while in a physical store. What does this mean for retailers? It means that, while people are shopping in your store, they are performing activities like social interactions, pictures, and online shopping (possibly price comparisons).

84% of consumers use their smartphones while shopping in a physical store.

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But are people really “mobile” when using a mobile device? Not always.

It makes sense that, because people spend the majority of their time at work or home, 77% of mobile searches are in a location where people likely have a PC available to them .

Someone may browse the web on their phone, see an ad or interact with the brand in some way (perhaps on social media). From there, they could complete a purchase using their computer. Or perhaps someone may be watching TV (70-76% of people use a mobile device while watching TV, more on this below) while they message friends, check Facebook or Instagram, or post on Twitter.

Mobile device capabilities are expanding.

Mobile device technology, as a result of miniaturization of computer components & microchips, has seen large advancements in computing power and usability.

Processors are faster and more energy efficient

A smartphone’s processor today is more powerful (for multi-tasking) and almost nearly as fast per processing core than a state-of-the-art computer processor in 2004.

For example, in 2004, Intel released their Xeon Gallatin single core processor with a speed of 3.2GHz. By comparison, the Nexus 6 (released in Q4, 2014) sports a quad-core 2.76GHz processor. You can see a history of processing performance over time (PDF report) on Columbia University’s website.

Screens are bigger and resolutions, higher

Show growth of phone functionality and screen size.

Screen resolutions have improved over time. For example, the G1 (released in 2008) smartphone’s screen resolution was 320×480 and a screen size of 3.2 inches. Compare that a smartphone released this year, the HTC One M8, that has a screen resolution of 1920×1080 and a screen size of 5 inches. Even Apple has embraced a larger form factor with the iPhone 6 (despite Steve Jobs saying that the iPhone shouldn’t ever get bigger). Traditionally, the iPhone was about 3.5 to 4 inches tall and about 2 inches wide. The iPhone 6, on the other hand, is available in a size of 5.5 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide.

Cameras have more megapixels and pictures look better

Even cameras have gotten better. Look back at some of the pictures you took with an older camera and compare it to the quality of your current phone.

How do mobile device capabilities relate to development of websites and mobile applications?

As you can gather from the statistics above, smartphones and tablets are bigger and more capable than ever before. So consider that, if your company’s website was designed in 2010, it was (probably) designed for devices (and their limitations of screen size and processing power) from that point in time. The result may be that when people browse your website or try to use your mobile application on a modern mobile device, they may not experience it in the way you intend. There could be errors in appearance, issues with usability and layout, and poor performance.

With that said, if you have not yet adopted a mobile strategy or still have yet to extend support for mobile devices, you should consider what people actually do on their mobile devices.

Define Your Mobile Strategy based on Consumer Usage

A study was performed by ExactTarget (referenced several times here) that examined how people use their smartphones and tablets and what they actually do while they use them.

What do people actually do on smartphones and tablets?

You can see, just below, what activities are performed at least once a day on a smartphone and tablet.

Daily Activities: Smartphone vs Tablet

Emerging Pattern of Media Consumption, Contribution, and Interaction

Based on ExactTarget’s 2014 Mobile Behavior Report, a pattern of device preference based on the type of interaction starts to emerge. It appears that, for complex interaction and consumption of media (read tweets, shop online, read the news, browse Facebook, and search), people prefer to use a Tablet device. For simple interaction with and contribution of media (browsing Pinterest, scrolling through and posting to Instagram, etc), people exhibit a preference for smartphones.

Preference of Mobile Device for Properties Visited

How can businesses taking advantage of this?

Cultivate a Primarily Mobile Device Experience

Some companies made mobile devices their initial (and primary) focus. The identifiable pattern is an emphasis on media rich experiences supported by screen size, touch, and picture / video sharing.

  1. Instagram – Share pictures and short videos
  2. Vine – Share short videos
  3. Snapchat – Share pictures and videos
  4. Pinterest – Media rich experiences with easy social sharing / re-pinning
  5. Tinder – Emphasis on usability via touch (swiping) gesture

Extend Support to Mobile Devices

Others, like Home Depot, focus on extending support for their current websites and applications to mobile. Google recently published a case study about Home Depotciting positive results after bridging the gap between mobile and desktop users:

  1. Visits originating from a mobile phone tripled in one year
  2. Mobile sales more than quadrupled
  3. Implemented close monitoring of key mobile conversions (store locators clicks)

Note: Google recently released an improvement to Estimated Total Conversions with store visit insights via AdWords.

Plan a Mobile-First Approach

A mobile-first approach means that mobile devices are the primary consideration and foundation for design and functionality. Essentially, you first begin with mobile considerations and then work up to other devices (like desktops, laptops, large tablets, etc).

Ethan Marcotte, author of Responsive Web Design, talks about why a mobile-first approach in this video:

YouTube embedded playlist

How important is mobile device support to consumers?

In a study of consumers, the results easily support the conclusion that support all types of devices is important. Here are the results of the study where consumers were asked to rate the importance of certain items or topics as it relates to device support.

Make Content Easy to Access on Any Device

Rating of Importance for Seamless, Cross-Device Experience

Is your business taking advantage of growing mobile capabilities?

Words like mobile friendly, responsive, seamless experience, and cross-device support are easy to talk about in meetings, but the implication of those phrases deserves careful consideration and planning.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How well does your website work on a phone or tablet? Does it appear free of errors, function correctly, and load quickly? How easy is it to navigate? Do you have to pinch, zoom, and pan?
  2. Would your business benefit from a mobile application (think, insurance companies, government services, niche social networking applications, dashboards / intelligence tools, etc)?
  3. If your mobile audience grew to 40% starting tonight, would you be ready?

Next Steps

  1. Analyze your competitors to see if they outperform your company for a mobile audience. If so, it may be time to shift attention to your competitive mobile strategy. If they don’t yet support a mobile audience, you could gain a competitive advantage by doing so.
  2. If you already support (at least partially) a mobile audience, review your analytics and usage data to see if there are weak areas where you can improve a user’s experience.
  3. If you think you could benefit from extended mobile support or if you need help defining an action plan to transition into the mobile era, you should get in touch with your creative and web development agency to get the conversation started about responsive web design and development .

Further Reading

ExactTarget published a great report Mobile Device Usage Statistics which supported many of the statistics here.

Google also frequently publishes insights for a variety of online considerations, some of which focus on mobile behavior.

Photo Credit: “Device landscape” is copyright (c) 2011 Jeremy Keith and made available under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

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