Making it Big on the Small Screen? The Top Online Activities that Have Migrated to Smartphones

Within the past two decades, internet activities have migrated from bulky desktop computers to slim handheld smartphones, creating a ripple effect that challenges service providers to adapt to the latest digital platforms on which society functions. Since 1999, Rockbridge Associates has tracked the technology behaviors of consumers, including what they do online, through the National Technology Readiness Survey. In the most recent wave of research conducted in November 2015, we examined the migration of online activities to mobile phones.

Regardless of whether consumers transact on a large screen computer, tablet or phone, our research reveals a robust online economy where consumers conduct a wide variety of activities on the internet. Some of the more common activities (out of 25 tracked) include: making purchases in the range of $10 to $100 (87% of consumers), watching videos (82%) and checking bank account information (82%). Another common activity is purchasing items under $10 (77%).

Companies need to understand not only what consumers do online, but which activities are gaining traction on the small screens of smartphones. In our research, we found that while the most common internet activities involve commerce, the world of small screens is dominated by fun. When looking at the incidence of smartphone owners who performed an activity who also used a phone for this purpose, we find that consumers most prefer to use their phones for:

  • Accessing streaming-media, such as streaming music (74%)
  • Downloading multimedia such as songs, books and movies (62%)
  • Watching videos (61%)
  • Reading print media such as the news or a magazine (56%)

Smartphone Activity
A commonality in these activities is that a large portion of consumers perform them on the internet in general (regardless of the device). However, one particular activity seems uniquely suited for smartphones – the video call. Only 44% of consumers made video calls on the internet in a 12 month period, but 63% of those who own a smartphone with data access and had made video calls noted that they had used a smartphone for this purpose.

Not every activity seems suited for a small screen, as shown by their low penetration of smartphone usage. Some examples include booking travel arrangements (33%), taking online courses (28%), trading stocks/securities (27%), and conducting business with the government (22% for state/local government, 21% for federal). Thus, a consumer who wants to engage in higher risk and more complicated activities like booking a flight, investing or applying for a permit will most likely favor a bigger screen from the security of their home or office.

Today, the small screen of the smartphone is used to access entertainment on the go and communicate face to face. However, as more consumers go completely mobile, m-commerce will experience growth and constitute the next digital frontier for service providers.

Written by: Charles Colby, Chief Methodologist