Following an abortive launch earlier in the year, the latest ‘next big thing’ in smartphones went on sale this September in the shape of the Samsung...
Getting smart on smartphone use
Key global consumer smartphone habits
Following an abortive launch earlier in the year, the latest ‘next big thing’ in smartphones went on sale this September in the shape of the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Promising the benefits of having a tablet and a smartphone in one flexible device, this new phone comes with a hefty price tag.
Its target market in the broadest sense will be anyone with a smartphone, but in an era when the vast majority of connected adults use a smartphone and the marketplace for connected devices is fiercely competitive, it is more important than ever to differentiate between smartphone users across multiple countries around the world.
Examining findings from our TGI Global Quick View Consumer Data, which provides a harmonised view of consumer behaviour globally, we look at fluctuations in smartphone ownership amongst internet-using adults in 22 key markets around the world.
We also explore how smartphone use varies and the demographics and attitudes that inform marketers, planners and insight professionals how best to target and engage smartphone users in different countries.
In addition, we shine a spotlight on smartphone use in Great Britain specifically.
Global trends in smartphone use
Smartphone penetration consistently high across markets
Across the 22 markets covered by TGI Global Quick View Consumer Data, 84% of internet-using adults have a smartphone. This figure is remarkably consistent across markets, ranging from a penetration of 92% in China to 77% in Japan.
Being so ubiquitous, smartphone ownership shows few topline fluctuations across markets by age, income or sex. But within individual markets there are some significant demographic differences. For example, in India, 67% of smartphone owners are men and only 33% women. Meanwhile, in Brazil, 34% of smartphone owners are aged 16-24, compared to just 5% who are aged 55-65, whilst in France the equivalent figures are 20% and 15% respectively.
Enormous fluctuations in smartphone activities by country
The types of online activity smartphones are used for varies enormously, with some vastly more popular than others. At one end of the scale, 74% of smartphone owners use their phone for instant messaging and chatting, whilst only 9% claim to use their phone for gambling.
But between markets the differences in use can be vast. In Argentina, 88% of smartphone-owning adults use their phone for instant messaging and chatting, whilst in Japan the figure is only 41%.
Even amongst markets that you might think of as being broadly similar in terms of consumer behaviour because of geographical proximity and cultural similarities, there can be significant differences in use. For example, 68% of British smartphone owners use their phone for social networking activity, whilst in Italy this is even higher at 72%, but in Germany it stands at just 58%.
This holds true even across broad areas of use where there can be significant fluctuations. For example, 42% of smartphone owners in South Africa use their phone for shopping, retail, or finance, whilst in China it is 97%.
Key attitudinal differences between markets
Since smartphone penetration is so high, it is hard to differentiate owners attitudinally from other adults.
However, connected adults as a whole (and thus smartphone owners) in different markets hold varying levels of agreement with particular attitudes and it is important marketers understand these in order to evaluate how best to engage smartphone users across different markets.
For example, smartphone owners (and indeed connected adults generally) in India, China and Turkey are particularly likely to agree that it is important that their family thinks they are doing well.
Similarly, smartphone owners in Japan stand out for being far more likely than the average smartphone owner across the 22 markets to assert that they don’t want responsibility, they would rather be told what to do.
By the same token, smartphone owners in Brazil are 36% more likely than the average globally to agree that they want to get to the very top in their career.
The most effective media mix to reach smartphone users will inevitably differ between countries – something that those at agencies and media owners alike will be keen to identify in order to target and promote, respectively, the relevant media types and vehicles.
For example, in the USA smartphone owners are 55% more likely than across the markets as a whole to be heavy consumers of TV, whilst in China they are 56% less likely.
In Brazil, smartphone owners are 50% more likely to be heavy radio consumers, Turkey comes out particularly strongly for both print newspapers and magazines, whilst Denmark is strong on out-of-home consumption.
Equally, each market has its own social media brand strengths. Twitter comes out particularly strongly as a platform used by smartphone users in Spain and Mexico, LinkedIn is used a great deal in Turkey, whilst Facebook shows particularly strong usage right across Latin America.
Finding the right media is key, but just as important is understanding what content smartphone users like to consume through the media in different markets.
TGI Global Quick View tells us that smartphone users in Turkey are particularly likely to like to consume content on finance and the economy (85% more likely than in the other markets), whilst in Mexico cinema and film comes out strongly (59% more likely) and in China health and fitness content is of particular interest (55% more likely).
Spotlight on Great Britain
Samsung and iPhone continue to dominate handsets
In Great Britain, 37% of smartphone-owning adults claim to have an Apple iPhone, 32% a Samsung phone and the next biggest brands – Sony, Huawei and Motorola at around 5% penetration each.
SIM-only deals on the rise, contracts with phone declining
When it comes to payment plans the trend is very much towards SIM-only deals, which were adopted by 16% of smartphone owners in 2015, rising to 31% today. Conversely, monthly contracts where the phone is included have seen their popularity dip from 59% of smartphone owners in 2016 to 49% today. Pay-as-you-go contracts have been broadly steady over the same period at about 18% penetration.
Indeed, data from our paid search intelligence service reveals that almost three times as much was spent on the search term ‘sim only deals’ in the last year compared to ‘contract phones’, with 10 advertisers investing the former search term and five in the latter.
Paid search spend on mobile likely to spike again this October
The biggest mobile networks and operators very much dominate the online paid search marketplace in Britain. Over the last 12 months, the biggest spenders have been EE, Vodafone and Giffgaff, who have all spent the equivalent of well over $2 million on paid search. They are followed by O2 and Three, both around the $1.5 million mark.
Last year the mobile market saw a huge spike in paid search spend in September and October as Apple undertook new phone launches, with other providers following suit in the months running up to Christmas. With Samsung’s big launch this year at a similar time to Apple's launch last year, the general pattern of mobile paid search spend for late 2019 looks likely to echo 2018.
Smartphone owners less and less willing to pay hefty monthly bill
The proportion of smartphone owners who spend £30 or more each month on their phone has seen a gradual decline over recent years, from 33% in 2012 to 22% today. By the same token, the proportion spending under £10 has grown from 12% in 2012 to 27% today.
83% of smartphone-owning adults pay their mobile bill themselves, but 8% (3.5 million people) have the bill settled by their parents and a further 3% (1.4 million people) have someone else in the household pay the bill.
Focus on the most frequent switchers: 4% of smartphone owners switch phone every year
Around half of smartphone owners change their phone less than once every two years, but a hardcore of 4% change it every 12 months and as such represent a particularly valuable group to marketers in this space.
The value of these frequent mobile switchers is only enhanced by the fact that they are over four times more likely than the average smartphone owner to say they regularly respond to SMS adverts from their mobile provider or other companies, with 21% of them saying they do this.
Supermarket particularly popular destination for new handset
These frequent phone switchers are particularly likely to have purchased a mobile from a supermarket ‘in the last 12 months’ compared to the average smartphone owner. They are over three times more likely to have bought from Sainsbury’s and almost three times more likely to have bought from Asda.
They are also three times more likely to have bought from the Apple Store and over two and half times more likely to have bought from 3.
Top apps: social networking, banking & video sites especially popular
Looking at our Great Britain TGI Clickstream data, which includes metered data on mobile (and other) internet use, we can see that the most popular apps used ‘in the last 4 weeks’ are Facebook Messenger, used by 76% of adults who go online with their smartphone, followed by Chrome (76%), Facebook (75%) and YouTube (74%).
However, much depends on age, with the top apps used by smartphone users who are aged 65+ being Google Play (77%), Chrome (76%) and Google Search (75%). Whilst for those aged 15-24 the top three are YouTube (82%), Facebook Messenger (79%) and Facebook (74%).
Smartphone users are particularly likely to claim to have visited social networking sites, banking sites and video sharing sites ‘in the last month’.
We have seen how popular social networking apps are amongst this group, but when it comes to banking, the most popular financial services apps used ‘in the last 4 weeks’ as measured by our metered data are PayPal (22% have used), NatWest (12%) and Nationwide Mobile Banking (9%).
The smartphone today has become ubiquitous, with penetration high almost everywhere. But, as we have seen, how smartphones are used and what motivations and values smartphone owners have can vary a great deal from country to country.
Understanding these fluctuations is key to efficiently engaging and reaching smartphone users around the world.
At the individual market level it is possible to use TGI Consumer Data to drill down in more granular detail to discover how smartphone users interact with their phones, to refine campaigns and targeting at the local level.
On this front we've seen in Great Britain the trend over time towards SIM-only deals and consumers not prepared to pay as much as previously each month for their payment plans.
Furthermore, we honed in on the potentially super-lucrative audience that is the annual phone switcher and their engagement with their mobile.
Smartphones are amongst the most watched and intimate of devices, presenting a unique opportunity to marketers. But as the hardware, software and content all continuously evolve, so consumer engagement with phones fluctuates and it is those who are able to stay on top of this consumer behaviour that will reap the greatest commercial benefits.