New GfK Study: Are Smartphones 'Limiting' How We Use Our PCs?

 A new study to be released today by GfK, the giant research company, suggests that while mushrooming use of smartphones and apps continues to change the digital world, it’s also changing PC use-- in a surprising way

Interacting with social sites made up 31% of the total minutes spent by smartphone users in 2012, the new study says, the same as last year.

But as total smartphone and app use has increased, it appears that consumers are narrowing the range of what they use choose to use their PCs to do.


In 2011, the survey respondents, said they spent 14% of their time on a PC on social sites, and a like amount checking email. They spent 10% of their time using search functions, 9% gaming and 7% watching videos.

A full 37% of their time on a PC was spent doing something else—the large “other” category that is the unexplored Internet universe that once upon a time a user might have discovered almost by accident.  



By this year, that “other” number had fallen to 20%.

(In fact, though, a lot of the categories—search, gaming, video, reading, blogging, audio, and mail are accounted for in other parts of the pie.)

 Robert DeFelice, GfK vice president on the media side says that statistic suggests consumers’ “interest in going beyond a familiar repertoire of activities, even on the PC, seems to be dwindling.” Details of the study can be found later today on the research firm’s Website,

In most ways, the new study adds to the steady stream that shows the push of smartphones and tablets to gain a very large place at the Internet advertising feeding table. To DeFelice, it’s more proof that advertisers have to find new ways to explore and redefine social media because that is where the action is.

 “Communicating to the consumer has to be different,” he says. “It’s got to be more personal, it has to be more interactive, because the world has turned into this social interactivity kind of place.”


Smartphone or PC time spent accessing online video is still a fat figure. Video-watching on PCs has essentially doubled, from a 7% share in 2011 to 13% in 2012,. And watching videos on smartphone went from 7% of the time spent in 2011 to 9% in 2012.


Phones now account for 17% of total time spent with the Internet across all devices, compared to 12% in 2011, according to the research.

The time use on desktop and laptop computers to access the Internet has dropped off considerably, representing 73% of Internet time consumers spend there in 2012, compared to 83% a year ago.

That’s still overwhelmingly the top of the stack, but trend data show that the purposeful Internet use encouraged by smartphone apps is changing how we use it.

To DeFelice, the lesson being learned is that as more and more people use smartphones to do their daily business, they are learning to use apps to accomplish those tasks.

It may be that consumers are also learning how not to do things, hence the drop-off in the “other” category. We increasingly just don’t DO other. We don’t go there.

“I do find myself, when I’m on my PC, doing the same kinds of things I do on my smartphone. ‘Surfing the Internet’ on a smartphone just isn’t appealing to me, and more people may feel that way. It’s an app world on smartphones and tablets. So as you migrate into using those apps, its changes your behavior on a PC as well. You just become accustomed to doing certain things a certain way. It’s almost as if we’ve been scripted and trained how to do certain things.”

And as a result, it might be that as technology is changing, that, as DeFelice sees it, “Surfing, as we used to love to call it, is just something we don’t do as much anymore. You’ve just been trained to be purposeful about what you do.” That DeFelice suggests, is a message advertisers might want to pay attention to.

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