Mobile has overtaken desktop in terms of Internet traffic, with profound effects on smartphone users.

This article looks at the psychological differences between smartphoners and desktoppers and what each may mean for marketers.

In late 2013, Google’s Eric Schmidt proclaimed that 'mobile has won', a stance backed by industry research published by Enders Analysis showing that smartphones and tablets had overtaken traditional desktop PCs in terms of internet traffic.

But although smartphoners now make up the majority of web traffic, they also approach the web differently to their desktopper counterparts.

The smaller screens, reduced processing power and lower bandwidth provoke some unexpected behaviours in smartphone users.

Slower-than-desktop bandwidth should encourage mobile users to favour text, whilst the smaller screen instead encourages a heavier reliance on imagery. Perhaps even more surprisingly, smartphoners are viewing relatively large amounts of video – particularly YouTube and other sources of user-generated content – creating a paradox around bandwidth. 

The role of the distracting sidekick

But occupying a role as digital sidekicks, smartphones also act as a constant companion. The rise of second screening means that users are frequently engaged in other activities at the same time as they are using their phones.

The link between social networking and television viewing is well documented for instance.

Second screening presents additional challenges for marketers when trying to capture the undivided attention of an audience.

More problematic still is early evidence suggesting that second screening may alter the brain, triggering depression and emotional problems. These conditions are also associated with trouble making decisions – poison to marketers trying to convert more customers.

But because the smartphone goes everywhere with its owner, many feel compelled to use it constantly:

  • 70% check their phones in the morning within just one hour of getting up.
  • 56% check their phones before going to bed.
  • 48% check their phones over the weekend.
  • 51% constantly check their phones during vacation.
  • 44% reported they would feel very anxious and irritable if they don't interact with their phones within a week.

(Source:Sleeping with your smartphone : how to break the 24/7 habit and change the way you work – Leslie A. Perlow). 

In some geographic regions as many as 44% of smartphoners self-identify as having a “mobile phone dependence”. This is significantly higher than desktoppers who claim addiction rates of less than 11%

New opportunities

Because smartphoners are always connected, marketers have a potentially unprecedented level of access. The example of smart TV viewing shows how intelligent, immersive, multi-channel campaigns can be built around mobile devices.

The always-on, always-connected nature of smartphones also means that users are also more open to value-add experiences.

QR-codes linking to mobile-optimised websites are rapidly being replaced with NFC tags embedded with smart content, or AR experiences that bring brands and products to life.

The constant search for amusement means that smartphoners are more open to great quality content than the desktopper counterparts – particularly as they really can be online at any time.


The differences between smartphoners and desktoppers are stark:

  • Smartphone use often coincides with engagement in other activities.
  • Smartphoners are subject to higher levels of ‘Internet addiction’.
  • Smartphones are always-on, providing new opportunities for marketers to connect with them.
Chloe Young

Published 26 June, 2015 by Chloe Young

Chloe Basterfield is Marketing Manager, UK & ECEMEA at Oracle Marketing Cloud and a contributor to Econsultancy.

11 more posts from this author

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Comments (1)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Re: "second screening may alter the brain, triggering depression and emotional problems."

Doubtful. They checked for correlations in lots of brain regions, all but one of which showed no match. They then only mentioned the one that correlated in the press release. This seems like classic "data dredging", so I doubt the results are significant.

The study was published at:

"VBM analysis revealed a negative association between MMI scores and gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex ... No other brain regions showed significant correlations with MMI scores. Thus, higher media-multitasking was associated with smaller gray matter volumes in the ACC."

about 3 years ago

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