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MEF Director of Programmes James Williams shares an overview of a new report looking at the changing ways we are using our smartphones and the app categories most valued by users world wide. The Mobile Apps User Survey is available to download now.

Smartphones have moved the mobile telephony game along so much further than ever was conceived all those decades ago when truly portable devices appeared. Whilst it’s undeniable that many of today’s devices are beautifully designed, the real game-changer has been the stuff you can’t physically see from the outside. I am of course talking about applications – apps. Android rules the roost in terms of app downloads but it’s the sheer variety of apps today that is frankly mind-blowing.

The days of the reason for being of a mobile phone being pure basic communication (think texting and speaking) alone have been well and truly consigned to annals of history. Think of anything you can do on the internet today and thanks to the millions of apps available and widespread mobile internet coverage globally, those capabilities move seamlessly over to mobile. Over half of all internet visits today are carried out using mobile devices, smartphones leading the way here.

This all means that at best, 1/3 of smartphone owners still need that little bit of extra encouragement to start doing things new to them, so there is clear headroom for growth.

Personally I have played on Xbox for 19 years now (since the beginning here in the UK) but have never taken my gaming mobile. Thankfully for companies everywhere, I am an exception as you’ll see from the report that gaming just pips listening to music to the post as the absolute top smartphone activity, chosen by 68% of all the 6,500 people globally across 10 countries surveyed.

This all means that at best, 1/3 of smartphone owners still need that little bit of extra encouragement to start doing things new to them, so there is clear headroom for growth. Much of this comes back to ease of use and given the rapid (genuine) digital transformation that was forced upon so many given the measures put in place to limit the spread of  COVID-19, millions of people new to the online digital world have found themselves thrust into it. My mother (in her 80s) is one of them and is now perhaps rather too proficient with her smartphone and that well known chat app…

Talking about chat apps, had I not seen the findings of the report, I would never have believed that those in the 55+ year age group access social media at least once per week, more than any other. It might appear that the real youth of today are leading the way here but leave it to the silver surfers. A surprising reality. So keep an eye out for this.

And something enterprises really need to understand and get their heads around properly in their customer engagement channel mix. WhatsApp Business messaging and the like should not just be aimed at younger demographics.

One area which threw up a large disparity in how smartphones are used is something I am quite partial to myself – ordering food. What really hit me was how people in China have embraced this use case so much more than the level of the closest country surveyed, to the tune of more than 50%. 79% of people in China order food once or more per week using their smartphones. I thought I reached rather too readily for my smartphone and those food related apps but clearly I have some way to go myself!

Our Mobile Apss User Survey 2021 has some great insights and is well worth a read – its available to download for MEF Members now, along with the data sets its based on, as well as an Executive Summary available to all.

James Williams

Director of Programmes, MEF


Available to Download

The Mobile Apps User Survey provides detailed insight and analysis into the apps and services people from around the world use their smartphone for in 2021. In addition, the report also provides a deep dive analysis of 6 key uses including gaming, watching video content, and using social media.

Download now – Full Report for MEF Members + Executive Summary