The rise of smartphones and what it means for brands

Seventy three percent of smartphone users and 90% of iPhone users use their devices to access the internet, writes Stuart Knapman, senior director, Essential Research.

More than half of UK adults have a smartphone
More than half of UK adults have a smartphone

There’s no denying that smartphones are big business. Sales of the devices are huge, with almost 467 million units shifted worldwide in 2011.

The UK is leading the way when it comes to smartphone use - we’ve now reached a point where more than half (56%) of UK adults have a smartphone - and 12% have an iPhone.

It’s clear that smartphones are only going to become more prolific - many people now rely on their mobile device to run their lives, so it’s important for brands to understand what this means, both in terms of current usage and future adoption.

The Essential Eye tracker, which was launched this year to examine UK consumers and their use of digital media and technology, shows that mobile internet use is already mainstream.

Seventy three percent of smartphone users and 90% of iPhone users are now using their devices to access the internet and a similar percentage - 87% of iPhone users and 66% of smartphone users - regularly check their emails on their phone. 

It’s one thing measuring what people are currently doing on their smartphones, but it can be just as interesting to see what people can’t do at the moment (or at least, don’t know they can), but would like to be able to do.

Here, we can see that the things that appeal most are practical benefits that make life easier.

  • Mobile payments. Not satisfied with their mobile acting as a games console, information service and sat nav, people want to use it as their wallet too. Of those questioned, 20% said they would like to be able to make cashless payments on their mobile phone. More and more consumers are becoming aware of 'wave and pay', and while most popular smartphones - including the iPhone - currently lack this technology, it’s certainly one to watch given the growing demand from consumers - Google, Visa and PayPal already have their own payment services, and Barclays recently launched its ‘Pingit’ app. 
  • Location, location, location. GPS positioning can now track a person with an enabled phone down to the square metre - a service already being used by nearly a third of smartphone users - and people want companies to embrace this by providing them with relevant details of special offers, delivered when they are close by. It’s much more useful for consumers to receive a two for one voucher when they are passing a shop window, rather than when they’re sitting at their desk or watching TV. Our Essential Eye data shows that while only 10% of people currently receive location-based promotions or vouchers, a further 18% would like to be able to.
  • Other significant areas of demand include using phones to scan bar codes in order to access information (9% have done this in the past week; 11% can’t but would like to be able to), recognising and informing the user about songs being played (8% did it last week; 19% can’t but would like to) and translating things from one language to another (6% did it last week; 20% can’t but would like to). Companies can expect to see growth in all these areas in 2012 and beyond.

We’ve also seen some interesting trends in social media. Here, certain behaviours have been migrating from computer to mobile for the past couple of years.

The Essential Eye shows that while nearly all Facebook users still use a computer to access Facebook, nearly half also use a mobile, a steady growth from a third in November 2010.

But the computer remains the device used most often by nearly three quarters of Facebook users.

However, when it comes to Twitter, the picture is different. Although similar numbers of people use computers and mobiles to tweet, the mobile is the dominant device, with 53% of Twitter users saying they use their mobile most often for Twitter access.

As we’re starting to learn, when it comes to immediacy, consumers choose the mobile every time. We can increasingly understand the respective roles and values of the smartphone, the PC and now the tablet device too, and marketers need to take account of this in planning cross-media campaigns.

We have seen the first wave of smartphone adoption and it has changed the media landscape beyond recognition.

The next wave of adoption, combined with further advances in mobile technology and consumer confidence, will see even greater change.

As our research has shown, this represents enormous opportunities for marketers to engage in new ways with consumers and to deliver brand utility - by understanding consumer needs and recognising the unique role of the smartphone.

Stuart Knapman, senior director, Essential Research