Internet usage figures show smart money is on smartphone

Paul McGarrity reveals and examines recent research published by Ofcom into the use of new technology and media across the north Ofcom’s latest Communications Market Report for Northern Ireland reveals the latest findings on how we are using media – and contains a significant section on internet usage, from the rise in smartphone usage to insights on how we shop and interact online.

For me, the biggest technology development in recent years has been the huge increase in the ownership of smartphones. Every year since 2002 has been proclaimed ‘The Year of Internet Mobile’ but 2012 was finally the year that witnessed a huge and fundamental shift in consumers accessing the internet from mobile devices.

Smartphone ownership has risen significantly in the past year which is hardly surprising given the functionality smart phones now have. Devices such as the iPhone are not merely mobile phones but mini computers allowing us to manage our businesses, buy products and engage via social media – all on a handheld device.

The Ofcom report reveals that 34 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland now own one, up from 21 per cent in 2011. So more than a third of adults here now access the internet on their mobile phones.

However, the rapid rise in consumer use of smartphones has caught a lot of businesses off guard and created challenges. Many business are now having to rapidly adapt their online marketing to take account of mobile internet.

For instance, your website may look fine when viewed on a PC or laptop but may display badly when viewed on mobile. This wasn’t a big concern for brands when hardly anyone used mobile internet but that’s clearly not the case now.

Greater consumer use of smartphones also creates a challenge for marketers as mobiles are viewed as a personal device and some marketing tactics can appear intrusive.

Some of the world’s leading technology businesses have also been caught off guard by the rapid rise in mobile and smartphone usage. Facebook can trace its disastrous 2012 stock market floatation back to its performance on mobile. Not long after their launch, Facebook shares received a hammering after industry analysts and potential investors became concerned about Facebook’s ability to gain significant advertising revenue from mobile. Facebook finally admitted it was struggling to raise ad revenue from users who access Facebook via mobile because it is more difficult to carry advertising on the devices than on a PC or laptop.

In addition to the rise in smartphone usage, there has also been relatively strong adoption of tablet devices such as Apple’s iPad and e-readers such as Amazon Kindle. A small but significant minority of adults in the north, about 10 per cent, have a tablet PC or e-reader. I certainly expect the global trend to continue and the future of publishing will be transformed along with it.

The report also looked at what people across Northern Ireland are using the internet for and the research revealed some interesting insights. For me the most revealing finding was the rise in using the internet to purchase goods and services. A massive 72 per cent of people here are now using the internet to shop online.

The rise, which will certainly continue upwards, should be a flashing red light to the north’s retailers, many of which could be selling online and capitalising on what is undoubtedly a growth area.

Also detailed within the report was the rise in people using social media. Two thirds of people in the north now use social media on a regular basis to interact and engage online and the research clearly reflects overall trends for social media being embraced by nearly all generations.

Internet usage in the north to find out information on education and public services is also very significant. The combined figure for people across Northern Ireland searching online for information on schools, universities, health and local-government services is nearly 40 per cent.

This is a statistic that should encourage public-sector directors to think more about how local government, health trusts and universities have adapted to meet this demand online and how better prepared they need to be to meet the future demand.