UK is now texting more than talking
- Mobile voice calls in decline for the first time ever, as more switch to text and online communications
- Newer ways of communicating led by 16-24s, with texting and social networking more frequently used than either phone calls or face to face communications
- The average Briton now sends 50 texts per week
- Two fifths of UK adults now own a smartphone, with the same proportion saying their phone is the most important device for accessing the internet
- Tablet ownership has jumped from 2% to 11% in 12 months
Text-based communications are surpassing traditional phone calls or meeting face to face as the most frequent ways of keeping in touch for UK adults.
The findings were revealed when adults were asked what methods they used at least once a day to communicate with friends and family.
The average UK consumer now sends 50 texts per week - which has more than doubled in four years - with over 150 billion text messages sent in 2011. Almost another ninety minutes per week is spent accessing social networking sites and e-mail, or using a mobile to access the internet, while for the first time ever fewer phone calls are being made on both fixed and mobile phones.
Teenagers and young adults are leading these changes, increasingly socialising with friends and family online and through text messages despite saying they prefer to talk face to face.
According to Ofcom's Communications Market Report 2012, 96% of 16-24s are using some form of text based application on a daily basis to communicate with friends and family; with 90% using texts and nearly three quarters (73%) using social networking sites.
By comparison, talking on the phone is less popular among this younger age group, with 67% making mobile phone calls on a daily basis, and only 63% talking face to face.
The report shows that traditional forms of communications are declining in popularity, with the overall time spent on the phone falling by 5% in 2011. This reflects a 10% fall in the volume of calls from landlines, and for the first time ever, a fall in the volume of mobile calls (by just over 1%) in 2011.
These changes in communication habits reflect the rapid increase in ownership of internet-connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones - making access to web-based communications easier.
UK households now own on average three different types of internet-enabled device - such as a laptop, smartphone or internet-enabled games console - with 15% owning six or more devices.
The smartphone revolution continues
Four in ten (39%) adults now own a smartphone, a 12 percentage point increase on 2010. Forty-two per cent of these now say that their smartphone is the most important device for accessing the internet, with over four in ten (42%) regularly using social networking sites and half (51%) using e-mail.
Ofcom's continued research also suggests that smartphones are leading to a substitution between devices. Owners say they are using PC and laptops less for a range of activities since getting a smartphone, including watching video clips (51%) and sending messages (47%).
Overall, the time spent using the internet on mobile devices is up by a quarter (24.7%) year on year, with the overall volume of mobile data consumed doubling in the 18 months to January 2012.
The rise of the 'Robo shopper'
Smartphones are changing people's shopping habits, encouraging online bargain hunting - or Robo (Research offline buy online) shopping.
Over half of smartphone users claim to use their phone in some way when out shopping. This includes taking photos of products (31%), making online price comparisons (25%), scanning bar codes to get more product information (21%), reading product reviews online (19%) and researching product features (19%).
Tablets take off
Ownership of tablet devices, such as Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab, has risen rapidly in the last year from 2% of UK households in Q1 2011 to 11% in Q1 2012. This growth looks set to continue with over a third (34%) saying they could not live without their device and nearly one in five (17%) households saying they intend to buy a tablet in the next year.
Thirty-seven per cent of tablet owners say that they browse the internet more than they did before owning a tablet. While entertainment is the most popular use for tablets, they are also used frequently for checking e-mail (63%) and accessing social networking sites (46%), with nearly a quarter of people (23%) saying they spend more time social networking than they did previously.
Two thirds of consumers share their tablet with the other people they live with, while 29% sometimes let other people use their tablet. Despite their portability, 9 in 10 mainly use their tablet at home.
E-readers increase reading
One in ten (10%) UK adults now have an e-reader, with 41% of owners claiming to read more since buying the device.
However, owners are reading less on other formats. Six in ten (62%) people said they read less paper-based material since owning an e-reader, driven by a decrease in reading paperback books (60%). One in ten (10%) say they read fewer paper magazines and 8% said they are reading printed newspapers less.
The rise of 'Turfing'
Internet connected 'smart TVs' are growing in popularity with 5% of UK households now owning one, giving consumers the ability to 'Turf' - both watch TV and surf the web.
Many owners admitted they were initially ambivalent about the new technology, with around half (47%) saying they were unconcerned by the TV's web-browsing capabilities when making their purchase. Despite this, over two thirds (65%) claim to have subsequently used the internet connection on their smart TV.
As smart TVs grow in popularity, so is the physical size of the average TV screen. More than one third (35%) of TVs sold in the UK in Q1 2012 were either 'super-large' (33" to 42") or 'jumbo' sized (43" and over). This compares with just 1% of TVs of these sizes that were sold in 2001.
Countdown to London 2012
According to Ofcom research, it is anticipated that at least 38 million adults in the UK will tune into the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on TV. And one quarter of working people plan to follow the Games while at work, with 25% planning to watch or listen to the Games during office hours.
New technology is also likely to have an effect on how people watch the sporting coverage. More than half (53%) of adults agree that it will make accessing coverage easier, while around one fifth (19%) said they are likely to follow developments on many different devices.
Social networking sites will also be used by some viewers to keep tabs on results and medal tables, with over one quarter (26%) of respondents claiming that social networking sites will make following the Games easier.
James Thickett, Ofcom's Director of Research, said: "Our research reveals that in just a few short years, new technology has fundamentally changed the way that we communicate. Talking face to face or on the phone are no longer the most common ways for us to interact with each other.
"In their place, newer forms of communications are emerging which don't require us to talk to each other - especially among younger age groups. This trend is set to continue as technology advances and we move further into the digital age."
Other key market developments
- UK viewers watched an average of four hours of TV per day in 2011, around the same as 2010 but an increase on the 3.7 hours recorded in 2004. Almost all (96%) of UK homes were able to receive digital TV by Q1 2012 as digital switchover enters its final phase.
- Over a third (37%) of UK adults with home internet watch online catch-up TV. Over half (51%) of those with a smart TV say they have done this.
- Total UK TV industry revenues increased by 4.9% year on year in 2011, reaching £12.3bn. This was driven by increases in subscriptions (up 8.3%) and advertising (up 2.1%).
- UK radio listeners listened to an average of 22.5 hours of radio each week, up by 24 minutes on 2010. However, among 15-24s, the long term trend of listening was down, by one fifth (22%) compared with 2001, as new ways of accessing audio have become available.
- Listening to the radio on digital devices has increased to 29.2% of total listening, with DAB accounting for two thirds of this.
- More than four in ten UK adults say they own a DAB radio set, a 4.4% year-on-year increase.
- BBC Radio 4 Extra was the most popular digital-only station, reaching 1.5 million listeners in Q1 2012.
- Total UK radio industry revenues reached £1.2bn in 2011, an increase of 3.5% year on year.
- Eight out of 10 people in the UK had access to the internet in Q1 2012. The largest increase was among 65-74 year olds, increasing nine percentage points to 64% in Q1 2012. Year-on-year growth of the UK online audience has slowed to 1.6%. Average time online per month per internet user stood at 23 and a half hours for 2011.
- Two thirds of internet users have accessed Facebook. Social networking sites are increasingly being used to navigate online; Facebook generates almost a quarter of all referred traffic to YouTube (23.7%) in contrast to Google's 32.3%.
- Spend on internet advertising is greater than any other category of advertising, at £4.8bn in 2011, against £4.2bn for TV and £3.9bn for press.
- E-commerce continues to grow. The value of retail sales transacted online was £2.6bn in February 2012, up by 30% year on year.
- The average cost of making a mobile voice call fell to broadly the same level as a fixed line call in 2011. For the first time, over half (52%) of all call volumes were made from a mobile phone.
- Nearly half (49%) of all mobile subscribers are on a contract - the highest ever, driven by increasing adoption of smartphones with devices included in the contract.
- A third of people aged 16-24 lived in homes where mobiles were the sole form of telecoms in Q1 2012 - more than double the 15% average across the UK.
- The total number of fixed broadband connections passed 20 million for the first time in 2011, with over 5 million mobile broadband connections. Seventy-six per cent of UK homes had a broadband connection.
- BT and Virgin Media's superfast broadband services were available to around 60% of UK homes by March 2012. Superfast broadband accounted for just under 7% (6.6%) of all connections.
- Total UK telecoms revenues fell by 1.9% in 2011 to £39.7bn, driven by a fall in wholesale revenues.
- Almost half of residential postal users in the UK say they use First Class stamps all of the time in 2011. This is despite only one in ten saying that all of their mail needed to arrive the day following posting.
- Post is still the preferred way of sending a greeting, such as for a birthday card, with 58% of UK adults doing this.
- Claimed use of post has fallen in the past two years, with 30% of adults saying they use it less. UK adults say they send an average of 3.2 letters or cards a month.
- UK postal revenues increased for the first time in four years, to £6.7bn in 2011.
- Total mail volumes continued to fall, by 25% between 2006 and 2011.
- Consumers in Wales have shown one of the fastest take-up of mobile devices in the UK, with smartphone adoption up by 14 percentage points.
- Northern Ireland leads the rest of the UK for superfast broadband availability - standing at 94% of homes.
- Scotland has the fastest rate of growth in broadband take-up year on year, which is now in 68% of homes.
See the Communications Market Report 2012.