Mobile

Smartphone users ‘can’t seem to put them down,’ Nielsen reports

people smartphones Esther Vargas flickr
Image Credit: Esther Vargas/Flickr

What would your daily life be like if smartphones had never been born? We will never know — until someone makes a movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring an iPhone instead of Jimmy Stewart — but Nielsen has taken a stab at figuring out how your daily routines have changed because of those little slabs.

Smartphone ownership is continuing to grow: Two-thirds of U.S. mobile phone subscribers in Q4 are smartphone users, for instance.

And mobile usage has now exceeded Web usage in the U.S., U.K., and Italy, the consumer research firm noted in a post Monday on its Web site.

Britons used smartphones nearly 42 hours on average, Americans 34 hours, Italians 37. In each case, that’s significantly more than online computer time: 27 hours in the case of Americans, who increased their smartphone time about 15 percent compared to a year ago.

“Not only are consumers spending more time using their phones,” the report noted, “they can’t seem to put them down, increasingly accessing their phones multiple times a day.”

Americans access apps and mobile sites an average of seven times a day, two more times daily than in December of 2012. Britons reach for their handsets about nine times daily, nearly twice the average of a year earlier.

‘A Better Expression’

And what are we doing with our phones? Mostly using apps, particularly ones for entertainment and media or for social media. Text messages take up nine percent of users’ time, on average, while phone dialing — remember they were once telephones? — is a mere 3 percent of usage time for American Android users.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst who covers social media for industry research firm Current Analysis, pointed out to VentureBeat that findings similar to Nielsen’s could be obtained — sans statistics — simply by observing people sitting for a minute in any context: outdoors, in a restaurant, or on a sofa ostensibly watching TV.

“They are more electronically engaged,” he noted, “than with each other.”

In fact, Shimmin said, smartphones “are keeping us more connected than we were before, and they’re keeping us more apart than ever before.” He also ventured the mathematical fact that “approval from 200 people on your smartphone can be more rewarding” than the approval of people right in front of you.

Against Shimmin’s claim, however, is recent research by urban anthropologists showing that people in public situations don’t actually spend much time on their phones — unless they’re alone. Only 10 percent of adults spotted in New York’s Bryant Park were using their phones, while just 3 percent of adults on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum in New York did, according to a study recently discussed in the New York Times Magazine.

Shimmin sees some hope in wearables, because they will shrink smartphones down to the point where “the phone is left in your pocket,” and the interaction is on your wrist, in your ear, or in your glasses. You can still interact, but you’re not staring at a screen.

“It’s like when a great invention comes along,” Shimmin said, “and it makes our lives a little worse until a better expression of that technology comes along.”

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