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Smartphones and mobile devices seem to dominate everyday life. But how are they actually used? Are mobile apps really replacing internet browsers?

Internet use is mainly mobile – and it’s still growing

Research by Comscore in late 2018 sheds light on the internet activities of British internet users, across device platforms and age groups – with some surprising results.

Mobile devices account for more than three-quarters of internet use by adults.

Smartphones alone account for 65% of all adult minutes – and this figure has increased by five points since December 2017. Tablets have lost one point. But it’s desktop computers (including laptops) that are really losing ground.

Screen size preference changes with age

It’s little surprise that mobile devices are popular with young people. Nearly half of all unique visitors between 18-24 use smartphones – and this figure drops consistently with age.


However, tablets are popular with older people. Less than one-in-five unique visitors between 18-24 use tablets – but this figure increases consistently with age.


Older people seem to prefer larger screens. This could be due to declining eyesight, or simply because older people aren’t ‘digital native’ – so they might find a smaller device tricky to use, even if they enjoy good vision.

Either way, developers should bear this trend in mind and consider their target audience when they’re optimizing apps.

Mobile visits are shorter

Average time spent by internet users per visit ranges across devices – with desktop visits lasting more than four times as long as mobile visits.


If you’re developing a mobile experience then it’s especially important that you deliver a quick and responsive mobile experience, as the attention span of mobile users is comparatively low.

Nearly a third of adults are mobile-only

A growing number of adults exclusively access the internet with mobile devices – and desktop-only users have nearly halved in the last year.


Adults that exclusively use smartphones or tablets grew from 25% to 32% (a total of 13.8 million people) between December 2017 and December 2018 – while at the same time, desktop-only users dropped from 11% to 6%.

It’s clearer than ever that mobile experiences should be the primary concern for developers.

But how do mobile users prefer to use their devices?

Mobile apps rule the online experience

Over half of all internet minutes happen on smartphone apps – while their internet browsers capture less than a tenth.


Mobile apps capture two-thirds of all minutes and 85% of mobile minutes – with a strong preference for smartphones over tablets. Internet browser use is dismal, in comparison – with tablet browsers making up just 2% of online minutes.

Overall device reach reflects these trends. All smartphone users access apps – while 15% of tablet users don’t seem to use any.


Users prefer different experiences on each device

Despite smartphone apps dominating internet use overall, it’s clear that tablets and desktop devices are preferred for different types of experience.


Smartphones dominate messaging, gaming, mapping, and fitness

It’s a little surprise that instant messaging is almost exclusively mobile – or that GPS mapping, and fitness trackers are highly mobile-centric.

Other popular categories for mobile include coupon apps, books, gaming, dating, and consumer electronics.

Tablets get a slice of news and entertainment

News and entertainment are the most popular categories on tablet devices – but tablet devices fail to capture a majority for any kind of activity.

Most tablet users will have a smartphone and typically use it as their primary device. Also, tablets typically run a similar OS to smartphones – whereas desktop devices can offer a different kind of experience.

Tablet screens previously offered a clear size advantage compared to smartphones – but even this is disappearing, as average smartphone screen sizes continue to increase.

Computers still take the lead for education and movies

Desktop devices are the most popular choice for education and movie experiences – despite capturing a small slice of internet activity, overall.

Freedom to connect large screens, big speakers, and input devices (EG. keyboard/mouse) seems to be a compelling advantage for internet users who are seeking movies, media, and educational experiences.

Internet use for mobile apps into 2019 and beyond

Mobile apps clearly dominate the digital landscape – and will only grow in significance as 5G emerges and makes new and exciting types of experience possible – which clearly implies the importance of sophisticated mobile app testing in delivering high-quality apps.

Smartphones will probably continue to encroach on tablet territory, as screen sizes increase – and foldable smartphones could replace tablets altogether.

Movies and education are two exciting areas where mobile app developers clearly have an opportunity to pioneer more immersive and interactive experiences that could capture more traffic from desktop devices.

  • Are you continuously testing your apps to ensure they deliver value?
  • Are you aware of the mobile devices that your users prefer?
  • Are you ready to take advantage of 5G?

Alex Napier Holland

Tech Business Writer