Ah, the joy of new statistics! A cool new study about consumer behavior with our mobiles. Increasingly, the mobile phone market has become flooded with smartphones, but what is it then that we use them for? I have been cautioning experts to stop calling the devices ‘mobile phones’ (or cellphones) as voice calls are no longer the primary use of the devices. I recommend the device be called simply a ‘mobile’. So what then is it that we do on our mobiles?

SMARTPHONES MEASURED BY USER PERCENT

Recently a survey was conducted by O2, one of the four major carriers in the UK (formerly the mobile arm of British Telecom, but now owned by Telefonica of Spain). O2 surveyed its smarpthone users and found that the following are the top uses (as percentage of all smartphone owners who use that function).

1 – Taking pictures – 74%
2 – Voice calls – 71%
3 – SMS text messaging – 69%
4 – Surfing the internet – 69%
5 – Alarm clock – 64%
6 – e-mail – 52%
7 – Watch – 50%
8 – Address book – 50%
9 – Social networking – 49%
10 – Diary – 39%
11 – Games – 38%
12 – TV & Films – 22%
13 – Reading ebooks – 13%

Interestingly, the camera is now the most used feature, ahead of all forms of communication such as voice calls, SMS text messaging, email and social networking. Surfing the internet is used by more than two thirds of British smartphone owners and the alarm clock, watch, and address book functions are use by at least half of smartphone owners. Interestingly, gaming is ranked 11th. Only two out of five smartphone owners are mobile gamers.

What happened to SMS text messaging? This is quite dramatic, as the latest ComScore measure we had for the UK last year had 90% of UK consumers using SMS text messaging. Now a year later, only 69% of smartphone users do so. This is of course because of OTT services like Whatsapp, iMessage, BBM, Facebook and Skype. Most of the SMS decline among smartphone users is not due to a lessening of mobile phone messaging use, it is shifting that to more efficient messaging platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, BBM, and iMessage. We heard earlier this year that a third of UK mobile phone users had shifted away partially or completely from SMS to mobile messaging on OTT providers, from the survey by MyVoucherCodes in April. Still, the drop in SMS usage from 90% of all phone users last year to only 7 out of 10 users now (among smartphone users, the majority of UK phones are now smartphones) is very telling. In Britain, they have already witnessed ‘Peak SMS’ and we’ll see global Peak SMS soon, within a few years.

Voice calling is another very interesting story. The Pew survey of UK total consumers last year found that 87% made voice calls. Remember this was 100% globally on all phones as recently as the early 1990s, when phones had no other functions than making calls. Now, a year later, that percentage is down to 71% (among smartphone users). That is quite a big drop, and follows the global trends.

Now, lets move to the second part of the findings – about time spent on smartphones:

SMARTPHONE USE MEASURED BY TIME

In terms of time, the O2 survey had 9 breakdowns of the major activities on smartphones. I have aggregated and divided them into five groups: Communication, Entertainment, Web surfing, Social Networking, and Camera. Let us see how it is divided by time.

Smartphone use by time:

1 – Entertainment (music, games, TV) – 33%
2 – Communication (voice, SMS, email) – 28%
3 – Web Surfing – 21%
4 – Social Networking – 15%
5 – Camera – 3%

Even though cameras are the most used feature, users do not spend much time on it per day. We occasionally take pictures and show them off, but that activity is very short in terms of time. We spend more time on our smartphones being entertained than communicating or ‘working’ that might qualify as Web Surfing or Social Networking (obviously there will be more entertainment under each of those categories as well). One third of time spent on smartphones is dedicated to entertainment.

Here is the full list in descending order by minutes used per day, according to the O2 survey of UK smartphone users:

Web browsing 25 minutes/day
Social networking 18 minutes/day
Music 16 minutes/day
Gaming 14 minutes/day
Voice calls 12 minutes/day
email 11 minutes/day
SMS texting 10 minutes/day
TV and Films 9 minutes/day
Photographs 3 minutes/day

The total time we spend on our smartphones is 128 minutes per day or 2 hours and 8 minutes (on average, among UK smartphone users). That is a lot of time. That is over 13% of our total waking hours. That is one eight of our total time awake, that our smartphone is in our sight or entertaining us or providing multitasking benefits (like playing music to us while we do something else).

SMARTPHONES CANNIBALIZING OTHER TECH

As we rapidly shift from feature phones to smartphones, this data is a strong indicator of what capabilities will likely become priorities on phones, and how much time the phone’s various features are used.

We also have also seen a shift in behavior. I have been arguing for a decade that mobile phones will cannibalize other digital devices designed to fit in a pocket. I have summarized it to this formula:

Mobile + Anything = Mobile

At some point, ‘music-phones’ were introduced, now all mobile phones function as music players. So Mobile + Music became just Mobile. The camera is another good example. Early on it was a curiosity and not all phones had cameras. Mobile + Camera became just Mobile. Today, almost every phone has at least one built in camera. Mobile plus anything soon becomes just mobile. This O2 survey tells us what devices are being cannibalized by mobile phones:

Gadget Cannibalization by UK Smartphone Owners:

Alarm Clock – 54%
Wristwatch – 46%
Stand-alone camera – 39%
Laptop PC – 28%
Gaming console – 11%
TV – 6%
Books – 6%

Half of UK smartphone owners have abandoned their alarm clocks and nearly half done away with their wristwatches. These industries are now are forced to sell to shrinking markets (often made up of primarily elderly customers). I am not predicting Rolex will die anytime soon, but the best days of Timex and Citizen are long gone.

The stand-alone camera market is stronger in comparison, only 39% of consumers have shifted away totally. However, this trend will accelerate, as the cameras on phones continue to close the gap with ‘real’ cameras. Many of the big traditional camera brands, such as Minolta and Konica have quit the cameras business altogether, and film-makers like Kodak have gone bankrupt, as did Polaroid, which managed to go bankrupt twice. This does not mean the end of cameras, Nikon and Canon still make cameras for the niche premium professional and semi-professional markets. However, the mass market camera is now our mobile phone. In Asian markets, the shift to cameraphones occurred long ago and the remaining stand-alone camera market is tiny by comparison and shrinking quickly.

The laptop PC market is also surprisingly strong, 28% of smartphone users have quit using a laptop PC. That number will never become 100%, as the utility of a laptop is quite different from that of the smartphone. However, many consumers that just want to be able to surf the web for example will not bother with more expensive laptops, and will be content with just their smartphones.Students and other professionals will need their PCs of course, but as smartphones become our pocket PCs, the use of traditional PCs will shrink. Smartphone sales exceeded total PC sales (including desktops, laptops and tablet PCs) for the first time last year. Now we have smartphone usage stats saying more than a quarter of smartphone users had abandoned their laptops. This is devastating news for the PC industry.

If you liked what I wrote a decade ago and would like to see what I am promising for the near future of mobile, take a look at the Mobile Forecast 2012-2015 that I just released with 404 data points of what will happen in the next four years.