“Seventy-two per cent of adults say their smartphone is their most important device for accessing the internet, 71% say they never turn off their phone, and 78% say they could not live without it”. Ofcom.

Whilst gazing into its shiny screen we can socialise with friends (remember when you could do that in person?), find directions or shop. Let’s face it, even when we are with other people many of us are guilty of taking a quick glance at our emails or checking in on social media – who knows what might have happened since you last looked?

Smartphones can be seen as the ultimate disruptor, constantly reminding you to reply to another Whatsapp message. Research has shown that whilst notifications play a part in our obsession, more of us are actively checking our phones without any prompt. Turning off notifications or putting your phone to silent mode doesn’t stop the internal reminder from your brain. For many of us, reaching to check your phone is automatic, a habit that doesn’t need a specific reason, result or expectation – “it’s just something that you do”. We often don’t realise we’re doing it and are surprised when we find out how often we’re reaching for our phone. This is further supported by the report ‘Why are smartphones disruptive? An empirical study of smartphone use in real-life contexts’ by Maxi Heitmayer and Saadi Lahlou. They found that “89% of interactions were user-initiated”. For the remainder, almost 60% of interactions were prompted by visual notifications.

The report found that on average smartphone interactions lasted approximately 64.4 seconds. Participants were engaging with their phones for 10 minutes every hour and this followed a pattern of 1 minute, every 5 minutes. So, we spend 1 in 5 minutes of our day on our phones without even necessarily realising it!

And it’s not just teenagers and twenty-somethings that are spending a lot of time on their phones. Statistica reported the largest increase in smartphone usage in the over 55s. Whereas in 2012 just 9% of 55 to 64 years olds used a smartphone, by 2019 that number had increased to 80%.

Whilst distracting, smartphones are becoming the most effective way to communicate. The way we connect as consumers has changed dramatically, we’re now much more likely to respond to a Whatsapp or text message than an email. It’s shorter, to the point and demands a response, whilst an email can often be overwhelmed by all the other unread emails in your inbox. 

As research has shown, we are spending only a short period of time on each message, post or webpage. We are taking in information quickly as we flick from one subject to the next. If the information doesn’t stand out, it can be passed over with the brush of a thumb. It’s therefore not surprising that the use of images and video is shown to be a much more effective way to engage consumers. Statistics from Wyzowl showed that on average people watch 16 hours of online video each week. That’s an increase of 52% in the last two years. People are also much more likely to share videos with their friends than any other type of content.

There’s no doubt that extreme smartphone usage can be the route to losing hours of your day. However, when you balance this with the speed and efficiency of what we are now able to do on the go digitally, they are a huge positive. The current pandemic has only increased our digital usage and the thought for many of not having a smartphone or tablet during this time is unthinkable. 

The results speak for themselves and it’s now very apparent that all communications need to be on a mobile-first basis, to fully engage and get your message across. As consumers, we expect communications that are direct, personal and responsive, to fit in with our busy everyday lives – that’s universal. We no longer can or should use the age of our customers or the industry we operate in as an excuse not to innovate how we communicate to them. 

They say that habits will either make or break you. So let’s focus on the good by harnessing the power of the smartphone, making connections and engaging in what is the new normal.