December 07, 2012

When we hold smartphones in our hands, we are in effect grasping miniscule computers. Their capabilities far outpace those of desktop units of yore, and their perpetual state of connectivity mean that smartphone users are almost never disconnected from the Internet. But even if they are at least somewhat comparable to full-fledged computers, are they used comparably? The Harris Poll tested smartphone owners' regular use of computers and smartphones for a series of tasks either product can complete, in order to find out.

Many top uses for smartphones and computers are device-sensitive

When smartphone owners are asked which of a set of actions (common to both devices) they regularly perform on a smartphone and/or on a computer, there are both divergences and similarities in how the two devices are used. For example, the immediate communication of text or instant messages is the most common smartphone use (87%) and the least common use for a computer (20%). In contrast, emails are the top use for computers (90% for all email uses combined). Email is still a highly utilized feature on smartphones (72% combined), though it is worth noting that reading emails (67% personal, 38% work) outpaces actually writing emails (56% personal, 32% work) on smartphones.

Smartphone owners also appear to favor computers for researching goods and services (81% / 3rd most reported activity vs. 45% / 8th for smartphone use) and purchasing products or services such as clothing and holiday gifts (78% / 4th vs. 23% / 12th).

In contrast, mapping/navigation is among the top uses for smartphones (73% / 2nd), but only a mid-tier use for computers (56% / 7th).

Social Media use is similar on both devices

Despite the many differences between smartphone and computer use, combined social media interactions make for the 5th most frequent use for both a smartphone (64%) and a computer (69%). In both cases, reading posts (56% smartphone, 62% computer) is the top activity, followed by sharing (44% smartphone, 51% computer) and writing (43% smartphone, 50% computer). A similar percentage use their smartphones to "check in" (43%), while far fewer do so on computers (28%).

Children in household increase likelihood of nearly all activities on smartphones

Smartphone owners with children in their household are significantly more likely than those without to indicate using smartphones for most of the activities tested, including mapping/navigation uses (79% among those w/ children in hh, 68% without), downloading free applications, music or videos (72%, 62%), combined social media use (72%, 59%), playing games (62%, 52%), researching goods or services (54%, 39%) and many others.

Understanding what smartphones are used for is an integral part of designing a successful device. For example, the prevalence of text messaging calls for a well designed keyboard interface. Similarly, smartphone users' reliance on their devices for mapping and navigation services calls for either a well designed mapping interface or the ability to download one.

Furthermore, the prevalence of data-munching activities like texting, navigation, downloads, emailing speak directly to smartphone owners' data plan needs, and as reliance on these devices continues to grow both data plans and entire data networks may be affected in any number of ways.

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