A nation addicted to smartphones

04 August 2011

  • Over a quarter of adults and nearly half of all teens now own a smartphone
  • 37 per cent of adults and 60 per cent of teens are 'highly addicted' to them
  • Smartphones are beginning to affect social behaviour

New Ofcom research reveals the extent to which the UK has become addicted to smartphones, with people confessing to using them everywhere from the dining table to the bathroom and bedroom.

Over a quarter of adults (27 per cent) and almost half of teenagers (47 per cent) now own a smartphone, according to Ofcom's latest Communications Market Report. Most (59 per cent) have acquired their smartphone, which includes devices such as iPhones, Blackberrys and Android phones, over the past year.

Users make significantly more calls and send more texts than regular mobile users (81 per cent of smartphone users make calls every day compared with 53 per cent of 'regular' users). Teenagers especially are ditching more traditional activities in favour of their smartphone, with 23 per cent claiming to watch less TV and 15 per cent admitting they read fewer books.

And when asked about the use of these devices, 37 per cent of adults and 60 per cent of teens admit they are 'highly addicted'.

In the bathroom and at the dinner table

The rapid growth in the use of smartphones - which offer internet access, email and a variety of internet-based applications - is changing the way many of us, particularly teenagers, act in social situations.

The vast majority of smartphone users (81 per cent) have their mobile switched on all of the time, even when they are in bed, with four in ten adults (38 per cent) and teens (40 per cent) admitting using their smartphone after it woke them.

Over half (51 per cent) of adults and two thirds (65 per cent) of teenagers say they have used their smartphone while socialising with others, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of adults and a third (34 per cent) of teenagers have used them during mealtimes and over a fifth (22 per cent) of adult and nearly half (47 per cent) of teenage smartphone users admitted using or answering their handset in the bathroom or toilet.

Teenagers are also more likely to use their smartphone in places they've been asked to switch their phone off such as the cinema or library - with 27 per cent admitting doing so, compared with 18 per cent of adults.

Work/life balance

Ofcom's research found that the line between work and social time is also becoming increasingly blurred. Thirty per cent of smartphone users say they regularly take part in personal phone calls during working hours, compared with 23 per cent of regular mobile phone users. However, smartphone users are more likely to take part in work calls while on holiday or annual leave. Seventy per cent say they have ever done so, with a quarter (24 per cent) admitting to doing so regularly, compared with just 16 per cent of ordinary mobile phone users.

Generation App

The research also looked at the popularity of applications, or 'apps', among smartphone users and found that just under half (47 per cent) of adult smartphone users have downloaded an app - with many people taking advantage of the availability of free apps.

Teenage smartphone owners are more likely to have paid for an app download (38 per cent) than adult owners, amongst whom just a quarter (25 per cent) had paid for an app.

Teenagers are most likely to part with their pocket money for games, with a third (32 per cent) having paid for at least one game. Music is the next most popular genre amongst teens with 22 per cent having paid for a music-based app.

Adults are also most likely to pay for games (15 per cent) and music (8 per cent) apps, with maps/ navigation following close behind (7 per cent).

Digital decade

Ofcom's report also looks at the changes which have transformed the communications market during the last decade. It found that:

  • The majority of homes are now connected to the internet (25 per cent in 2000, 76 per cent in 2011);
  • Nine out of ten people own a mobile phone (36 per cent in 2000, 91 per cent in 2011) - and one in seven households are now mobile-only, as the penetration of landlines dropped from 93 per cent in 2000 to 81 per cent in 2011;
  • The majority of homes have adopted multi-channel TV (36 per cent in 2000, 93 per cent in 2010). Sixty per cent of households now own an HD-Ready TV although just over half of these claim to receive HDTV channels (33 per cent). Almost half (46 per cent) of households also now have a digital video recorder (DVR).
  • Consistent with the growth of mobiles and smartphones, the number of mobile voice minutes has grown by 250 per cent over the past decade (from 35 billion to 125 billion per year), and the number of text messages sent has increased by 2000 per cent (from 7 billion to 129 billion per year).
  • Average radio listening hours fell from 3 hours and 24 minutes in 2000 to 3 hours and 12 minutes per day in 2010.

Three important themes have also emerged over the decade:

  • The resilience of TV. Despite increasing use of the internet and an explosion in the range of devices available to access media and communications, TV remains the nation's most missed media and viewing actually increased between 2000 and 2010, with viewers currently watching just over 4 hours a day, up by approximately 18 minutes over ten years.
  • The relatively slow start, then rapid acceleration in the use of mobile data services. The recent adoption of smartphones has been accompanied by an increase in the volume of mobile data transferred over the UK's mobile networks. This increased forty-fold between 2007 and 2010.
  • The increasing pace of adoption of new technologies. While it took 15 years for half of the UK population to get a mobile phone and 14 years to get multi-channel TV, newer technologies such as online catch up TV and social networking websites reached this landmark in just four years.

Despite this growth in communications services and the increasing time we spend using them, average monthly household spend has increased by just 12.8 per cent in real terms, to £93.10 (£83.01 in 2000) and has fallen consistently year on year since 2005 (£106.50).

Generation gap

Despite this period of significant growth, the digital revolution continues to pass some people by. While nine out of ten adults (90 per cent) aged 35-44 have the internet at home, this falls to just a quarter (26 per cent) of over 75s.

And while virtually all (99 per cent) 25-34s own a mobile phone, only half (51 per cent) of over 75s own a mobile, with this age group more likely to have a landline (94 per cent) than 16-24s (67 per cent).

When asked what media would be missed the most, people aged over 75 are also far more likely to miss their TVs the most (65 per cent), followed by radio (15 per cent) and newspapers/magazines (8 per cent). The picture is very different for young adults aged 16-24 who would most miss their mobile phone (28 per cent), followed by the internet (26 per cent) and TV (23 per cent).

However, there is evidence that older age groups are catching up in the adoption of technology. For the first time, over half (55 per cent) of those aged 65-74 have access to the internet at home while over three quarters (77 per cent) now have a mobile.

Superfast broadband

By May 2011, around 500,000 households had adopted superfast broadband - with a headline speed of 30Mbit/s or higher - a fivefold increase from 2010. Fifty-seven per cent of households are now passed by superfast broadband, either through Virgin Media's cable service or BT's Infinity product.

Satisfaction with superfast broadband is high, with 80 per cent saying they are satisfied with the service (compared to 57 per cent satisfied with their previous broadband service), and a third (33 per cent) saying download speeds exceeded their expectations.

Almost two thirds of consumers (63 per cent) with superfast broadband say they are now more likely to download High Definition films/ TV programmes on the internet.

Communications in the Nations and Regions

Ofcom has also today published separate Communications Market Reports for the UK's nations. The reports and data compare and measure take-up of communications services in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the English regions.

With the UK set to complete the digital TV switchover by the end of 2012, consumers across the country have been upgrading their TV services from analogue to digital. In England, 96 per cent of TV homes now receive digital TV, in Wales the figure stands at 99 per cent, in Scotland at 97 per cent and in Northern Ireland at 90 per cent (where there is a year to go until switchover).

However, take-up of broadband continues to vary between the nations, with just 61 per cent of Scottish homes having broadband access compared to 71 per cent in Wales and 75 per cent in Northern Ireland. The proportion of mobile-only households is also greater in Wales (19 per cent) and Scotland (17 per cent) than the UK as a whole (15 per cent).

Ofcom's Director of Research, James Thickett, said: "Ofcom's 2011 Communications Market Report shows the influence that communications technology now has on our daily lives, and on the way we behave and communicate with each other.

"Our research into the use of smartphones, in particular, reveals how quickly people become reliant on new technology, to the point of feeling 'addicted'."

UK Key Market Developments

Telecoms and Networks

  • Total UK broadband take-up increased by 3 percentage points to 74 per cent by Q1 2011. The largest increase in adoption was from those using fixed services - mainly among older age groups.
  • 2010 saw a large migration of customers from pre-pay to contract mobile phone services. At the end of 2010, nearly half (49 per cent) of mobile subscriptions were contract, compared to 41 per cent a year previously. Growth in the popularity of smartphones and cheap SIM-only tariffs have contributed to this, with one in five contracts now under £15 per month.
  • In 2010, an average of five text messages per day were sent for every person in the UK. In total, 129 billion text messages were sent, up by 24 per cent from 2009.
  • Total telecoms revenues fell by 2 per cent in 2010. Mobile revenues increased slightly (up 1 per cent), but fixed voice and broadband revenues continued to decline (down 3 per cent and 6 per cent respectively).

TV and audio-visual

  • Nearly 10 million TV sets were sold in 2010, almost all of which were HD ready. There were nearly 1 million internet-enabled TV sales during 2010, and 125,000 sales of TVs with 3D capabilities.
  • The UK TV industry collectively generated revenue of £11.7 billion in 2010, a 5.7 per cent increase on 2009, driven by both a recovery in advertising revenue (up by 11.2 per cent) as well as continued increases in subscription revenues (up by 5.3 per cent).
  • Spend on public service broadcasting network programming across the five main channels and the BBC digital channels increased by 5 per cent in nominal terms to £2.9 billion, the first increase in five years.
  • Time-shifted viewing in homes with digital video recorders (DVR) accounted for 14 per cent of all viewer hours in DVR homes in 2010, down by 1 percentage point from 2009.
  • Twenty seven per cent of adults said they used the internet for viewing catch-up television services in the first three months of 2011, a 4 percentage point increase on 2010, and a 12 percentage point increase in two years.
  • Over half of all households (54 per cent) have a games console, with one fifth of these (22 per cent) saying they use them to view video or TV content.

Radio and audio

  • Some 91.6 per cent of adults listened to the radio in the first quarter of 2011, up by 1 percentage point on 2010.
  • Listener hours rose to 1.04 billion per week in 2010, up by 2.1 per cent year on year. National commercial stations saw the largest increase, up 7 per cent year on year.
  • Over a quarter (26.5 per cent) of all listening was via a digital radio platform in the first quarter of 2011, 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2010.
  • UK radio industry income totalled £1.1 billion in 2010, up by 2.8 per cent in a year. BBC 6 Music is now the most listened to digital-only station (in the first quarter of 2011), with its weekly listener base growing by 261 per cent since 2006, reaching 1.3 million listeners on average per week. This growth comes in the context of a steady rise in the take-up of DAB digital radio and of digital radio listening more generally, and a campaign to prevent the closure of BBC 6 Music.
  • One in five (18 per cent) households use the internet to listen to the radio, seven per cent use free audio streaming services such as Spotify, and two per cent use subscription based streaming services.

Internet and web-based content

  • Over a quarter of people use their mobile phones for internet access. In the first three months of 2011, 28 per cent of UK adults said they accessed the internet on their mobile, up from 22 per cent in 2010.
  • Nearly six in ten (57 per cent) mobile phone internet users visit social networking sites on their mobiles, making it the most popular activity ahead of sending/receiving emails (53 per cent).
  • Nearly half of UK adults (48 per cent) said they used social networking sites in the first three months of 2011, up from 40 per cent in 2010. Total time spent on social networking sites was 1.3 per cent higher in April 2011 than in April 2010.
  • On average, internet users spent around 50 hours online on PCs in April 2011 (equivalent to 1 hour 40 minutes a day).
  • Over a quarter (26 per cent) of advertising spend is on the internet, marginally ahead of television. Internet advertising spend grew by 16 per cent in 2010 to over £4 billion. Mobile advertising increased by 121 per cent in 2010 to reach £83 million.



1. Smartphone users were asked to rate how addicted they are to their phones on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing completely addicted, and 1 not at all addicted. For analysis purposes, those who gave a rating of between 7 and 10 have been classified as highly addicted.