PC Obsolescence In Action: Users Who Own Smartphones And Tablets Are Dropping Their PC Usage In The UK

As the proliferation of smartphones continues to skyrocket, device owners are more and more eschewing their PCs, opting instead to use their smartphones as their primary Internet device.

Today, UK communications regulator Ofcom published some figures in its 2013 Communications Market Report that point to how that is playing out in terms of usage. When consumers are active users of smartphones (now at 51% penetration in the UK) and tablets (now double the penetration of 2012 at 24%, 56% of which is iPad), those consumers are swaying away from using laptop and desktop PCs.

This corroborates market analysis we have seen pointing to pressure on PC sales with the rise of smaller and less expensive Internet-friendly devices like smartphones and tablets.

In fact, when consumers own and use both, Internet usage on smartphones outweighs PC usage completely. The numbers are a testament to why PC sales overall are in decline: people are finding that they are just fine without them.

ofcom internet usage by device ownership

As you can see in the table here, Ofcom found that when consumers own smartphones and tablets but don’t use the tablets much themselves, they are much more likely to use PCs to connect to the Internet: 64% of users opted for the latter, compared to 23% for their handsets and 10% for tablets. The same goes for those who may own both but don’t identify themselves as much of users of either: here, PCs account for 78% of all internet usage (61% on laptops and 17% on desktops). Overall, across all internet users in the UK, PCs are the most popular device, accounting for 74% of all internet usage.

However, it’s clear that for those who are actively using tablets, these are acting as PC replacements. Those who identify mostly with their tablet devices are nearly at parity with PCs: 48% say they use their wireless handhelds instead of PCs at 49%. But those identifying with both — “with a smartphone and who personally use a tablet” — tip the balance: 50% are using these two for their primary internet device, just edging out PCs at 49%.

It’s also telling that we are very much moving towards smaller devices overall, with laptops more popular than desktop machines every category. (It appears that Ofcom didn’t bother to canvas opinion from people who own or identify only with desktop machines.)

Overall, Ofcom’s report (a 436-page tome) makes for a compelling case for the effect that tablets, as well as smartphones, are having in general across the media landscape.

Looking at metrics like “media stacking” (conducting unrelated media tasks while watching TV) or “media meshing” (interacting or communicating about the TV content they are viewing), consumers who are tablet users are working out to be the most avid multi-taskers in almost every single category (music and social networking being the only two standouts, and in both cases by just a percentage point). The other major social phenomenon driven by digital devices is ‘media stacking’. Overall, Ofcome notes that half (49%) of people weekly use their smartphones and tablets for completely unrelated activities like internet browsing (36%), social networking (22%) and online shopping (16%).

Still, while we continue to to see rapid growth among users of more portable devices, figures also seem to speak to how we will likely be looking at a multiple-device world for some time to come.

In fact, sometimes the presence of the multiple devices is actually leading to more usage of legacy products. For example, at the same time that Ofcom notes the influence of tablets on multitasking in TV consumption, it also points out that in fact the proportion of people watching the “main” TV in the house has actually gone up, to 91% compared to 87% in 2012. Part of this has to do with advances in those legacy products, Ofcom believes.

“Our research shows that increasingly families are gathering in the living room to watch TV just as they were in the 1950s — but now delivered on bigger, wider and more sophisticated sets,” writes James Thickett, Ofcom’s director of research. “Unlike the 1950s family, however, they are also doing their own thing. They are tweeting about a TV show, surfing the net or watching different content altogether on a tablet. Just a few years ago, we would be talking about last night’s TV at work or at school. Now, we’re having those conversations live while watching TV – using social media, text and instant messaging.”

The true test of how conducive tablets are to more usage may only come at a time when these are the primary device we have for interacting, and we’re past the phase of early adopter=most enthusiastic users.

ofcom media stacking

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Download full report here.

Image: Flickr