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About 38% of Americans have connected more digital devices in their homes during the pandemic, according to a study by accounting and consulting firm Deloitte. On average, each U.S. household now has about 25 connected devices.

The online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers provides insight into how the pandemic drove sudden consumer demand for work, school, medical visits, fitness, and retail shopping requiring connected devices and digital services. More consumers upgraded their home broadband, added Wi-Fi extenders, and expanded their mobile data plans.

The survey also revealed that many consumers (31%) were overwhelmed with managing a wide range of devices, services, and communications suddenly necessary for life at home.

Sixty-six percent of households have smart home devices; 39% of those smart home device owners paid for increased home internet speed. More than 50% of U.S. adults had virtual doctor visits, and 82% of those who used virtual doctor visits claimed to be satisfied with the experience.

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Fifty-eight percent of U.S. households have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and 39% of consumers own one. Among device owners, 14% bought their smartwatch or fitness tracker since the start of the pandemic.

Seventy percent of consumers who began smartphone-based retail behaviors, such as mobile ordering, during the pandemic intend to continue those behaviors. And among respondents planning to switch mobile providers in the next year, the top reason is to access 5G service.

Why this matters

Above: The number of connected devices in homes is increasing.

Image Credit: Deloitte

In March 2020, the pandemic and its lockdowns made households the center of daily American life — and connectivity took on newfound importance. Deloitte saw households beginning to push the limits of connectivity.

At the start of 2021, 55% of U.S. households included someone working from home and 43% had someone schooling from home. Top benefits of at-home behaviors were the capability to reduce the chances of getting COVID-19, closely followed by having no commute and being more comfortable.

Twenty-eight percent of home workers and 32% of home schoolers reported that they struggled to connect to the internet from certain locations in their home.

Workers at home cited the inability to meet face-to-face with colleagues or clients as a top challenge, followed by working longer hours than they would in-person, and being distracted by non-work activities. For home schoolers, the top challenge was getting distracted by non-school online activities, followed by not being able to meet face-to-face with teachers and classmates, and doing more schoolwork than if in-person.

A time machine

Above: Smartphones top the list of tech gadgets in demand.

Image Credit: Deloitte

Recent growth in inexpensive and easy video conferencing helped medical organizations overcome distance challenges to deliver much-needed virtual house calls during the pandemic. The pandemic’s urgency also suspended some of the regulatory barriers that made it difficult for providers to connect virtually with patients. This was good news for consumers who felt virtual doctor visits helped them continue to receive care during the pandemic while minimizing the risk of exposure to themselves and to other patients.

More than 50% of U.S. respondents had virtual doctor visits, and 29% of adult respondents assisted someone else in their household with a virtual visit. Eighty-two percent of those respondents using virtual doctor visits claimed to be satisfied with the experience.

Among the benefits of attending virtual medical visits, 44% cited ease in attending appointments, 43% said it reduced their chances of getting COVID-19, 20% said it was easier to schedule appointments, and 10% cited ease in sharing medical data with doctors. Sixty-two percent said they are likely to schedule future virtual appointments after the pandemic ends.

However, patients missed the human touch and face-to-face interactions (28%) and were frustrated with medical staff’s inability to directly measure vital statistics (21% overall but higher among older patients).

Healthier innovation?

Above: Antivirus is a critical part of the connected home.

Image Credit: Deloitte

Success with virtual doctor visits may bode well for future health care innovation. As wearables advance to record more discrete health, fitness, and wellness data, their ability to support health care providers will likely grow, along with many users’ desire to share more of this data with their providers.

Overall, 58% of households have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and 39% of consumers own one personally. Among device owners, 14% bought their smartwatch or fitness tracker since the start of the pandemic.

The largest use reported is for health and fitness (55%), primarily to measure walking steps and athletic performance, track heart health, and monitor sleep and calories. Among those interested in wearables, 39% listed cost as the primary reason they haven’t bought one — considerably larger than other factors. Yet, more seem to see the value of wearables, especially for health and fitness  — 27% of those who don’t have a smartwatch or fitness tracker in their household are interested in buying one, up from 24% before COVID-19.

Sixty percent of users claim to not be particularly concerned about the privacy of their wearable-generated data.

Smartphone usage

Above: Most people were satisfied with virtual doctor appointments.

Image Credit: Deloitte

Both in and out of the home, smartphones helped people get on with their lives while mitigating pandemic risks. Users adopted a range of new digital behaviors, including online mobile payment services, contactless store payments, and shopping and buying online from local providers who offer home delivery or curbside pickup. These mobile solutions were available prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic further highlighted their value.

Using a mobile app or website to order food from a local provider grew from 36% to 56% during COVID-19. Using a mobile app or website to order a product and then pick it up at a local store grew from 31% to 51%.

Contactless payments jumped from 28% to 46% during the pandemic; using mobile payments to shop on social media grew 28% to 42%. Among those who began smartphone-based retail behaviors during the pandemic, around 70% intend to continue most of those behaviors.

A test of connectivity

Above: Deloitte said 19% of people upgraded their networks during the pandemic.

Image Credit: Deloitte

The survey also revealed that while connectivity held up remarkably well to the demands of unexpectedly crowded homes during the pandemic, many households had reached the limits of broadband, wireless and Wi-Fi networks. And with reduced movement outside the home during the pandemic, it’s not yet clear how well existing smartphones and mobile connectivity will serve post-pandemic behaviors.

Since the pandemic began, 19% of those with home internet had upgraded to a higher-speed home internet service and 8% switched providers. Those who switched most often cited cost, followed closely by reliability, inadequate coverage throughout the home, and slow connectivity.

Around 70% of consumers said their home Wi-Fi met their needs for range and speed, but more have tried to fix dropouts and dead spots by extending their home networks. During the pandemic, 30% of home internet users purchased Wi-Fi extenders, 19% bought mobile hotspots, and 14% added mesh Wi-Fi networks.

Close to 40% of households with mobile data plans made some change to their mobile data plan since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upgrading to a new phone was the highest driver for this, followed by switching to an unlimited data plan and adding 5G.

Sixty-six percent of respondents noted they have had their smartphone for at least a year, while 31% noted they plan on upgrading within a year. Among respondents planning to switch mobile providers in the next year, the largest reason is to get 5G service, followed closely by getting better value for the price.

Among those who do not yet have 5G mobile coverage, 54% say they intend to eventually buy a 5G-compatible smartphone and 52% will sign up for a 5G mobile data plan with their carrier, when 5G becomes available.

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