Even so, 2015 is a pretty important landmark for the mobile phone. For the first time, our long-term 34-market data shows that Internet users are now spending an average of more than two hours per day online on their smartphones. This figure has increased from just 1.25 hours back in 2012, underlining the speed with which mobile devices are changing the game.
As usual, there are some important nuances to note within a global headline of this type. Firstly, time spent online via mobile varies dramatically by age. At the very forefront of the trend are younger consumers, with 16- to-24-year-olds now devoting some 3.25 hours to their smartphones each day. Compare that to the oldest group we survey -- the 55- to-64-year-olds -- on just 0.5 hours daily, and the differences in current engagement are plain to see. Put another way, that means today's teens and twenty-somethings are online on their mobiles for over 5.5x as long as the Baby Boomers.
Over time, of course we may expect these age-based differences to reduce. But the particularly telling metric here is that 55-64s are the only age group where we are not seeing a drop in time spent on PCs, laptops and tablets. Although it's important to note that the slightly more “traditional” devices are not being abandoned in any age group, there is still a pretty clear correlation in evidence: among 16-54s, time spent on mobile devices is growing quickly just as time spent online on other devices is undergoing gentle year-on-year decreases.
But the 55+ group bucks this trend -- and it does so very conspicuously: here, PCs and laptops are holding resolutely steady while mobile devices are recording very modest increases. The older consumers' well-documented love of tablets is one reason for this (in fact, 55-64s are more likely to own a tablet than 16-24s) but it means that, for some time to come, older consumers show no signs of making the same type of migration to smartphones as their younger peers.
Geography has also had a major impact on this trend. In the UK and USA, for example, the average Internet user is online on their mobile device for around 1.5-1.75 hours per day. Moving to regions like the Middle East or Latin America -- where mobile devices have played a much more fundamental role in the development of the Internet infrastructure -- and you will find people spending 3.5-4 hours per day online on their smartphones. Europe and North America are actually the global laggards here, far behind all other world regions. Demographics play a part in this (Internet users in emerging regions are more likely to be young, and hence mobile-minded) but it's also a result of the legacy of PCs and laptops in mature American and European markets.
The reason all this matters so much becomes clear when you start looking at forecasts for mobile-first behaviours. If current trends continue, then our data shows that by the end of the current decade, consumers will be spending more time online on their smartphones than on all other devices combined.
In short, mobile devices will account for more of our Internet activities than PCs, laptops and tablets put together. So it won't just be things like social networking and music streaming that are taking place mainly on smartphones as is the case currently -- it will be the majority of online activities that have shifted first and foremost to smartphones. And that includes activities such as online purchasing and content consumption which, to date, have remained the most firmly attached to traditional, larger devices like PCs and laptops.
This move toward mobile-centric consumption marks a hugely important transition that has a profound impact on when and how brands will be able to talk to consumers. But it's one that will occur at different times for different demographics and countries -- impacting younger consumers and emerging regions far earlier than older groups and mature nations. That means countries like the USA and UK -- so accustomed to being at the very forefront of global digital trends -- will actually be behind the curve here. Increasingly, it also means it will become more and more difficult to talk to younger segments via any device.