On average, a smartphone user touches their device thousands of times a day.1 Over the course of a year that’s over a million touches (consisting of taps, swipes and clicks), based on the average 2,617 touches per day.2
Over the next week, the tens of millions of smartphone owners in the UK are very likely to spend in excess of one billion hours on their devices. Average usage per day is 148 minutes.3 The way in which this time is spent will span a range of activity as varied as Apple and Google’s app stores: from productivity tasks to work communications, from self-improvement to self-promotion, to finding one’s way via GPS or a self-help guide.
Smartphones have moulded our behaviours, for better and worse. Their impact, understandably, has become part of the national conversation.
In June this year, for example, Simon Cowell revealed that he had abstained from smartphones for almost a year: “I literally have not been on my phone for ten months”.4 He noted: “It’s a very strange experience but it really is good for you”.5
Mr Cowell is one among many to be concerned about smartphone use. Thirty-nine per cent of 16-75 year olds Deloitte surveyed in June this year perceived they used their phones too much. Among 16-24 year olds, the proportion was much higher, at 61 per cent.
And smartphone users perceive others to be worse: 56 per cent of respondents with children thought they over-used their phones; 43 per cent of those in a relationship felt their other half used their phone too much (see Figure 1).
In all cases, every individual is likely to have a personal, qualitative assessment of what qualifies as over-use, both for themselves and those around them.
The impact of smartphones extends to the workplace, where they can be an intrusion, as Mr Cowell also noted: “The thing I get irritated with is when you have a meeting everyone’s on their phone”.6 A quarter of respondents who are in the workforce reported using their personal smartphone ‘very often’ during normal working hours. A further 30 per cent used it “fairly often”.
Smartphones also enable work tasks to intrude on personal time. A tenth of respondents in the workplace said they used their devices to work outside of working hours, and a further 16 per cent did so occasionally. Both are up by a few percentage points on last year (see Figure 2).
Work-related intrusions on personal time are never positive, but they may, on occasion be a lesser evil. Replying to a time sensitive email on a mobile may mean avoiding the lengthier process of switching on a laptop, or the even more onerous request of popping into the office.
A key first step towards changing smartphone use would be to quantify and categorise usage. Over the next year, that should become easier to do, as screen time measurement becomes a core, default functionality within the two major smartphone operating systems: iOS and Android.
The next version of Apple’s iOS, which launches this autumn, includes a dashboard that shows total time spent on a user’s smartphone or tablet, and how that time breaks down by category of app (such as social networking, games or productivity) and individual app or website.14 Users can set limits by category of app as well as individual app. Users can also see other usage indicators, such as the number of times the phone was picked up, and the number of notifications received.
The next major Android update, which was in beta test as of mid-August 2018, also features a usage dashboard. Users will be able to deploy several tools to reduce usage and distractions.
Toggling a ‘Do Not Disturb’ option on will reduce visual distractions; selecting ‘Shush’ will turn off audio alerts when the phone is placed screen down.
Facebook and Instagram have also launched measurement tools. Users have access to a dashboard that shows how they have spent their time on these services.15
Over the coming year, it should also become easier to control the online activity of others, including children.
The new iOS and Android operating systems should enable parents to monitor and place parameters on their children’s smartphone usage. Children’s usage dashboard can be monitored from their parents’ device; limits can be placed on usage; blocks of downtime can be specified.16
Quantifying time spent is one measure that should help users develop a more mature approach to smartphone usage. In a year’s time Deloitte should have a better understanding of how these dashboards have changed behaviours.
Indeed, by next autumn people should have a far better understanding of their smartphone usage than of any other device. There is no measurement, at an individual level, of time spent on a TV set or a PC, even though many would likely spend more time on them.
And there will also be a lack of cross-platform measurement: is time spent reading a book or news story on a smartphone any better or worse than the unmeasured time spent reading the same content on a PC? Or, for that matter, reading a traditional paperback or newspaper?
Putting a finger on our phone obsession, dscout, 16 June 2017: link
This number was based on a demographically diverse sample of 94 Android users. Activity was measured via a tool placed on users’ smartphones for a period of five days. For more information, see Mobile Touches report, dscout, 15 June 2016: link
A decade of digital dependency, Ofcom, 2 August 2018: link
Child drownings in Germany linked to parents' phone ‘fixation’, The Guardian, 15 August 2018: link
Augen weg vom Smartphone, liebe Eltern, The Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22 August 2018: link
Child drownings in Germany linked to parents' phone ‘fixation, The Guardian, 15 August 2018: link
Using a phone or a sat nav when driving, GOV.UK, as accessed on 28 August 2018: link
Honolulu first US city to ban texting while crossing road, BBC, 25 October 2017: link
Scientists Study Nomophobia—Fear of Being without a Mobile Phone, Scientific American, October 2015: link
Phone Addiction Is Real -- And So Are Its Mental Health Risks, Forbes.com, 11 December 2017: link
iOS 12 introduces new features to reduce interruptions and manage Screen Time, 4 June 2018: link
Facebook and Instagram introduce time limit tool to tackle social media addiction, Sky News, 1 August 2018: link
iOS 12 introduces new features to reduce interruptions and manage Screen Time, Apple Inc., 4 June 2018: link