mobile first

The UK is now mobile first! This is an important moment for consumer insights

The smartphone is now, in 2015, the most popular device for UK citizens both in terms of ownership and preference. This inflection point has been prophesied since the inception of the iPhone only 8 years ago. Now it is reality.

A recent Ofcom report found…


  • Smartphones are now undoubtedly mainstream with continually increasingly ownership across the UK. In 2015, 66% of the UK now own a smartphone, this has increased from 39% in 2012. Smartphones are now marginally ahead of laptop ownership (65%), which will undoubtedly increase to a more significant difference in 2016.
  • This growth trend is present in all age groups and fastest among 55-64 year olds which lept from 39% in 2014 to 50% in 2015. While those aged over 55 are more likely to own a laptop the gap is closing. Among younger age groups, 90% of those aged 16-24 now own a smartphone!
  • Smartphone ownership reaches a more representative cross section of socio-economic groups. ABC1s have high and almost equal levels of smartphone and laptop ownership. However in the lower socio-economic groups, especially DEs smartphones are more widely owned (56%) than laptops (45%).


  • Consumers report that the smartphone is now the most important device for connecting to the internet. 2015 is the year smartphones overtook laptops and the UK’s mindset truly shifted to mobile.
  • Under 35 year-olds prefer smartphones, those aged 35-54 see smartphones (31%) and laptop (33%) as equally important and those aged 55+ prefer laptops (36%) over smartphones (10%).
  • Interestingly, it is those in socio-economic groups C2, D and E that have a stronger preference for smartphones over any other device. C1s marginally prefer laptops (35%) over smartphones (31%) and among ABs there is a more marked gap: laptops prevail (35%) compared to smartphones (25%).

Smartphones are now the device of choice for UK citizens. Whilst the difference between smartphone and laptop is marginal, current trends show that the ownership and preference gap will have widened further in 12 months time. For market researchers this is a key challenge. The GRIT study 2014, by Greenbook reports that: only 5% of all surveys are actively programmed to be optimised for mobile. There are still some minor gaps (relative to laptops) in the coverage of smartphones, especially in the over 55 age category. However, and surprisingly, research via smartphones will provide better coverage among the lower social grades. In addition, one of the most compelling findings for researchers is that 90% of 16-24 year olds have a smartphone. This is the most difficult age group for market researchers to reach. If the industry improved it’s ability to deliver research activities via smartphones, we would vastly improve our chances of better representing the youth.

I would argue that all market research should be mobile first: both in design and execution. Ideally research projects would be where ever the respondent is, but if it can only support one platform, it should be built for mobile. When I say mobile first, I mean native to the device, not just optimised for a mobile web browser. This is important as email is the primary driver to online surveys. Email is still popular across most demographic groups but there is a usage gap beginning to emerge between old and young. Looking at general use (on any device) 62% of 16-24 year-olds use email once a week or more, compared with 78% among the over 55s. Unsurprisingly, the young are using social and IM apps native to smartphones and will therefore be more responsive to smartphone notifications as a driver for engagement.

What is clear is the adoption of smart technology is moving faster than the market research industry. Mobile research, particularly surveys, are not executed well. This is especially the case when research access panels link through to a different (and usually poor optimised) client server via a mobile web browser. The industry needs to recognise where consumers are and use the right tools – with the right user experience – to reach them.

Image: Oliur Rahman

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