Smartphones More Pervasive than Ever

Gone are the days when a popular excuse to postpone tasks was that your smartphone lacked the proper software to read a particular document.


Just a few years ago, it was difficult to predict what smartphones would be able to do for users. While we could send emails with those first-generation BlackBerrys — whose screens were more akin to an Etch A Sketch than a computer monitor — the notion of doing practically everything related to office and leisure from a single, hand-held device seemed distant.

The latest report on smartphone use in B.C., conducted by Insights West and iamota, shows just how far we have come, and outlines intriguing challenges to people in all walks of life, from HR managers seeking to improve operations to advertising executives figuring out how to connect with possible customers.

Smartphones are clearly changing the way we work. Gone are the days when a popular excuse to postpone tasks was that your smartphone lacked the proper software to read a particular document. Now, virtually anything can be reviewed on hand-held devices. Moreover, the fact that 56 per cent of smartphone users in our province rely on it for work shows that the office, whether we like it or not, is accompanying us everywhere. Two in five smartphone users (43 per cent) readily admit that because their device is always with them, they feel they cannot escape from work, a proportion that jumps to 49 per cent among those aged 18-34.

On the consumer side, the proportion of smartphone users who are doing more than just talk and text is growing markedly. Almost half of them (47 per cent) have used their device to make a purchase in the past three months. Parking and refreshments are the main uses for smartphone apps, suggesting technology is finding a way to replace loose change. Still, about one in five of us are also using our smartphones to buy items from websites or purchase movie tickets.

The youngest adults, those aged 18-34, are more likely to rely on these apps to pay for things, with one-third of them already using them for coffee and entertainment. This trend shows loyalty cards may be on their way out with the next generation of household decision makers. Who wants to carry another piece of plastic in their wallet, when the smartphone can easily find the closest venue, pay for that latte, provide a balance, and give points?

Another important aspect to consider is optimization. Users might have forgiven a brand for having a wonky mobile website a few years ago, but not now. Half of smartphone users in B.C. (48 per cent) think less of brands with websites that provide a poor experience on mobile devices. With so many users making the first contact with an organization via smartphone — and a third of younger adults actually making purchases on their device — an enhanced website can make a huge difference.

The last lesson from the data is the evolution of new media. Brands can start to look beyond the TV set to get in touch with potential customers. Despite difficulties in advertising on social media and websites, the smartphone represents one of the fastest-growing entertainment platforms in the province.

The average smartphone user in B.C. spends 14 hours, 12 minutes watching television during an average week, and 13 hours, 42 minutes using their hand-held device. This represents a difference of only half an hour between the medium long regarded as the marketing mecca and a technology that less than a decade ago appeared doomed by painful loading times and pervasive buffering pop-ups.

As the Internet has evolved, the days of free content and endless archives are also coming to an end. When ads first appeared on user-generated vehicles, such as YouTube, people reacted with despair. We may still be annoyed when we are forced to sit through a few seconds of advertisements before we catch a highlight on our web browser, but judging by how many eyes are moving away from the television set and closer to the handheld device, these ads are definitely here to stay.

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Photograph: Abd allah Foteih