Almost every internet user now owns a smartphone.

What makes the smartphone such an important part of people’s lives is its versatility.

Thanks to their improving capabilities, mobiles continue to take up larger shares of consumers’ daily time spent online, although PCs and laptops remain fairly central too.

This versatility makes it much harder for other devices to reach the same heights of ownership rates belonging to mobiles. To justify the added expense of acquiring a new device such as a smartwatch or a smart home product, consumers need to be convinced that the extra device goes above and beyond what a smartphone can offer.

This helps consumers gauge whether they’re buying a must-have device as opposed to one that’s nice-to-have.

Drawing on insights from our latest flagship report on global device trends, this week we’re covering some of the most important developments in the changing device landscape. 

Mobiles are encouraging us to spend longer online per day.

We’ve been talking about the Mobile Tipping Point for quite some time now, and we can finally say we’ve reached it.

The Mobile Tipping Point is the point at which consumers spend longer online per day on their mobiles than all other devices combined.

Time spent onlime

Looking at the average time users spend on their devices per day, we can see that in 2019, online adults spend around four minutes longer on mobiles than bigger-screen devices.

This means that daily online time is more or less equally divided between the two devices, but mobiles take precedence. 

What’s important to note here is that while time spent on PCs, laptops and tablets has declined – year-on-year since 2013 – these drops are not significant enough to offset the growth in time spent online on mobiles each day. This means that time spent online overall continues to grow, albeit gradually.

However, with consumers spending 3 and a half hours per day on computers in the first quarter of 2019, mobile-only strategies shouldn’t yet be the default.

A likely scenario is that PC and laptop usage will continue to fall, to a stable level, sustained by specific or time-consuming activities, such as professional use, or to fulfil users’ hobbies, like gaming or picture editing, for example.

Increased screen time spurs digital wellbeing awareness.

Globally, online time has reached an average of 6 hours and 49 minutes per day on computers, tablets, laptops and mobiles combined. 

screen time by region

This is around half an hour longer than the length of time internet users were devoting to being online three years ago.

At the same time, consumers’ device portfolios are expanding, with internet users now owning an average of 3.4 different devices. Internet users are spending longer looking at screens, which has had implications for their health and wellbeing.

As a result, consumers have become increasingly conscious of the perils of excessive use of technology. With so many devices and more and more time spent online, digital consumers are feeling the need to limit their screen time.

23% have tracked their screen time or set limits for certain apps in the past month, rising to 28% among 16-24 year olds.

And although this figure decreases with age, a substantial proportion (13%) of the 55-64 age bracket are just as conscious of their screen time and have taken action to limit it.

TV represents an important growth area for mobile.

Just because mobiles have reached near universal ownership among the existing online population, it doesn’t mean that they’ve reached the end of the road. 

TV behaviours by device

Smartphones may be the go-to device for activities like social media consumption, chatting with friends, and in some cases, even commerce activities among younger age groups – but they still have a way to go before taking the place of PCs and laptops, particularly when it comes to TV consumption. 

Smartphones are just ahead of PCs and laptops across each of the TV behaviors in our chart, with the exception of watching catch-up/on-demand TV services where they’re neck-and-neck.

Among 16-44 year olds, and across a range of Asian and Middle East and African markets, mobiles have actually overtaken bigger screens as the primary device for watching TV by some distance. 

While better mobile connectivity and the appeal of on-the-go TV consumption is certainly at the heart of this, so too is the growing adoption of streaming sticks and the role they’ve played in enabling mobiles to serve as the basis for household TV watching. 

Sticks like Google’s Chromecast allow users to share almost anything — films, personal photos, YouTube videos, Netflix shows and more — to their TV. Today, 15% of online adults own a streaming stick, and 29% have watched content on a TV by casting it via their phone in the past month.

Smart home technology is still fairly niche.

For all of the hype and media coverage, smart home technology is yet to make a serious dent in the industry, with just 12% of internet users saying they own a smart home device.

Smart home product owners

However, looking at younger demographics reveals a different picture – more than a third of 16-24s have a smart-home-product.

Adoption rates also vary by region – they’re highest in North America (17%) and lowest in MEA (6%), for example. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 63 million homes in North America will be smart by 2022, which equates to 44% of all homes in the region.

Smart speakers are the most commonly owned smart home devices among smart home product owners. They’re heralded as the future of everything, from search to shopping.

What’s interesting about this is that older people are more likely to own a smart speaker than their younger counterparts, with two thirds of 55-64 year-old smart home product owners having one.

And while many would assume it’s because older age groups are more affluent, this trend is prevalent even when we look at high-income earners.

Smart utility products are the second-most prominent devices among smart home product owners, and once again, there’s a strong uptake with older demographics. 42% of 55-64 year olds own one, compared to 35% of 16-24 year olds.

With the popularity of smart speakers and the frequent discount promotions offered by the likes of Amazon and Google, smart home products shouldn’t struggle in breaking past the 15% adoption mark.

Factors influencing the growth of smart home products.

The challenge in further growth for smart home products lies not just in convincing consumers that they can add value into everyday lives, but more importantly, in showing that their value proposition can’t be fulfilled by a smartphone. 

It’s for this reason that smartwatches and smart wristbands have failed to push past the 15% mark – consumers can’t see a compelling enough reason to fork out the expense for these devices when mobiles can easily match their functionality.

Tablets have also encountered this problem, but their role as a household device coupled with their popularity among older demographics and families can be attributed to 37% of digital consumers saying they own one. 

The similar demographics and household nature of smart home product usage do suggest that the potential market for these devices could be at least as big as that of the tablet market. 

What’s important to bear in mind here, however, is that the smart home product market is still very much in its infancy, which actually makes the 12% adoption rate quite impressive. 

Once 5G moves beyond the early adopter phase and more household appliances and automotive manufacturers begin rolling out smart home enabled products, the perceived value and usefulness of these devices could grow exponentially as ecosystems of smart products begin to grow in each household. 

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Written by

Chase Buckle is the Trends Manager at GlobalWebIndex. Chase oversees GlobalWebIndex’s Trends team, who leverage the company’s research studies to unlock the most up-to-date understanding of the modern digital consumer.

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