The number of voice calls made on mobile phones in the UK fell for the first time ever in 2017 – despite the fact we seem hooked on our devices.
That is according to the latest report from telecoms regulator Ofcom, which charts what it describes as a decade of digital dependence.
A total of 78% of all adults now own a smartphone.
On average, people check them once every 12 minutes during their waking hours, the study claims.
Two in five adults look at their phone within five minutes of waking, while a third check their phones just before falling asleep, according to the report.
A high percentage (71%) say they never turn off their phones and 78% say they could not live without it.
While three-quarters of the British public still regard voice calling as an important function of their phones, more (92%) say web browsing is crucial.
The report finds that the total volume of calls made on mobiles fell by 1.7% in 2017, even though making them is the cheapest it has ever been.
That does not necessarily mean people are talking less, however, because Ofcom has not collated figures for chat apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which could account for some of the decline.
“Over the last decade, people’s lives have been transformed by the rise of the smartphone, together with better access to the internet and new services,” said Ofcom’s director of market intelligence Ian Macrae.
“Whether it is working flexibly, keeping up with current affairs or shopping online, we can do more on the move than ever before.
“But while people appreciate their smartphone as their constant companion, some are finding themselves feeling overloaded when online, or frustrated when they’re not.”
The mobile family
The Louis family all depend on their smartphones but for different reasons,
While mum Kirsten uses it from the moment she wakes up to check social media, the family calendar, the weather as well as for shopping, her husband Andre – who is visually impaired – relies on it for a whole range of things, including booking taxis and reading emails.
He describes himself as “hooked”, saying the phone has been life-changing because, before he had one, he had to rely on the kindness of strangers when out and about.
Son Jake currently has his usage restricted to when he is in the family home, where he uses it to play games, message family and friends and go on YouTube.
Five-year-old Alice has yet to catch the mobile bug – she does not have a phone and does not want one. For now.
The average daily time spent on a smartphone is two hours 28 minutes, rising to three hours 14 minutes for 18 to 24-year-olds, the report indicates.
Most people expect a constant internet connection, with the majority of adults saying the internet is an essential part of their lives, and one in five spending more than 40 hours a week online.
The average is a more modest 24 hours a week online, with more than half of that time spent on mobile phones.
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For the first time, women spent more time online than men, particularly in the age group 18 to 34 where females spent an average half an hour longer online than men.
Seven in 10 commuters use their smartphones on their journey to work, with nearly a half saying they use it to complete “essential tasks”.
On average, users get through 1.9GB (gigabytes) of data each month, according to the report.
The amount of time people spend glued to screens has become a focus of the big tech firms in recent months, with both Apple and Google offering dashboards built into their operating systems which allow people to see how much time they spend on various apps and websites.
Facebook has also just announced tools to limit how much time people spend on the social network.
Meal time misery
The fact that mobile phones are now integral to people’s lives means they are having to develop a set of etiquette rules about their usage.
More than half agree that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with family and friends, with 43% admitting to spending too much time online.
The vast majority object to people using their phones during meal times, with both young and old agreeing. But when it comes to whether it is acceptable to be on a phone while watching TV, 62% of the over-55s object compared with only 21% of those aged 18-34.
The key function of a mobile device also divides the generations. While older people think web browsing is the most crucial use of their devices, youngsters regard video streaming as more important.
Our obsession with our phones is good news for advertisers. Nearly a quarter of all advertising spend is now on mobiles, and if mobile advertising was stripped away, ad revenue would be in decline for the first time.
Phone replacing TV?
When asked in 2008 what was the most important device they owned, more than half the respondents to that year’s report said it was the TV with only 13% identifying their mobile phone as the crucial gadget.
Fast forward to 2018 and 48% regard their smartphone as the most important, followed by the TV (28%).
The TV remains important though and despite the rise of on-demand and subscription services, broadcast TV still accounts for the majority (71%) of viewing time.
Other findings from the report include:
- 42% of houses now own a smart TV – with Ofcom predicting this will rise substantially in coming years
- the average household spends £124 on communication services each month
- 40% of households subscribe to Netflix
- one in eight homes now has a smart speaker