Smartphone 'addiction' increasingly seen as problem by consumers

20 October 2017

The steady permeation of smartphone use into almost every functionality of daily life may be impairing consumers’ ability to concentrate, particularly in the case of younger users. Further competition by developers and manufacturers is meanwhile likely to see the devices become ever more pervasive, raising concerns about the impact of the overuse of mobile phones on both mental and physical health.

85% of the UK population own a smartphone. While such devices have obvious utility, with map functions and internet on the go, they may also have a host of downsides – with heavy-users often succumbing to distraction, poor sleep patterns, poor posture, and reduced attention spans among other symptoms.

In a new report from Deloitte, titled ‘State of the Smart’, the consulting firm explores the concerns that users have with regard to their use of the devices. The report is based on a poll of 3525 consumers across the full age spectrum, based in the UK.

As a result of fierce competition in the sector, phone and application designers may be over-producing new innovative products and services. While these are designed for the increased comfort of users, they are resulting in behaviours that are not good for the mental or physical health by nature of their rapid evolution. They are potentially also negatively affecting work and personal relationships.

Too much mobile phone use

The survey found that 39% of users think that they are using their mobile phone too often. This was especially typical of younger respondents aged between 16-25, as well as those aged between 25-34,  with 56% and 55% of respondents concerned about their level of use.

19% of those between 16-24 look at their smartphone at least 100 times per day; while 12% look more than 200 times. Smartphones also tend to be picked up by 34% of UK respondents within five minutes of waking up, and by 55% within an hour after waking up.

One of the more concerning results suggested that as many as 78% of users look at the screen within the hour prior to sleeping, exposing them to blue light, which has a negative impact on sleep. Two thirds of young people, 16-24 year olds, check their phones during the night – which, given the need for their bodies to sleep, may have negative developmental effects from lack of adequate sleep. Other areas of concern include the use of mobile phones while walking, with 11% of respondents saying that they use them while crossing the road, while 53% do so while walking in general.

Overuse context

This perpetual attachment of users to their screens may well be built in part by the relentless intrusion of smartphone software. Intrusive push notifications and buzzes have built the technology increasingly into everyday activities. When asked in which situations they believed they used mobile phones too often, 40% said ‘all the time’, followed by 31% that said ‘at night’. A range of respondents also noted ‘when with family’ (34%), ‘at the weekends’ (16%), ‘when with friends’ (15%), and ‘at work / school’ (13%).

Teenagers appeared to be the most affected by how smart phones are designed to illicit responses from them – with 90 checks on average per day according to this survey. Their almost universal adoption (92% own such a device) and their consistent use at all hours (66% use it during the night) has resulted in 68% of the group being designated as ‘using the phone too much’.

The survey also asked whether people thought that others used their phones too much; parents (60%), in particular, thought that their children ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ use their phone too much, while 41% said that they believe their partner uses their phone too often.

Negative impacts

The research suggests that users are increasingly finding themselves in a vicious cycle, with decreasing attention spans leading to addiction-like habit formation, which in turn feeds back into further overuse and a double bind. Given the relatively high levels of distraction, and the interest from companies for the creation of attention seeking applications (they get more revenues), regulators may step in to limit or change how the devices and application can be or ought to be used. Questions pertaining to the actual benefits of the devices on the lives of young people may also be asked – particularly as companies create products and services that only coincidentally benefit users, while actually aiming to maximise business outcomes.

Paul Lee, Head of Research for Technology, Media and Telecoms at Deloitte, commented, “With every year the smartphone is becoming easier and more enticing to use. The question is: are we at the point at which smartphones have become almost too good for people to cope with, and if so, what remedies might be required? Interestingly, the steps that people are taking to control smartphone usage have a common theme: removing temptation.”

In 2016, around 49% of e-commerce transactions involved a smartphone, which is expected to increase to more than 80% by 2020. While meeting customer expectations on their smartphones is becoming increasingly important, the intrusion of smartphone technology into all aspects of life looks set to be fostered by retailers in particular in coming years, with the platform providing a lucrative market for the sector.


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5G internet impact underestimated by business

27 March 2019

The UK rollout of 5G mobile internet is set to get under way in 2019, with a growing number of telecomms providers stating they will launch their next-generation coverage by the end of the year. Despite the increasing buzz surrounding the new technology, however, a survey of executives has found a business community which holds rather downbeat opinions about the transformative potential of 5G.

Every decade or so, a new generation of network technology comes along that promises more speed, more capacity and more uses. With each generation, network operators invest capital to upgrade their infrastructure, with the firm belief that those investments will lead to more satisfied customers and reinvigorated revenues and profits. Following on from the launch of 4G in the 2010s, the next decade is set to see the rise of the 5G generation of new mobile technologies. EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three UK are among the telecomms providers to have already announced they will launch 5G services in the UK in 2019.

While previous generations have been understood in almost universally positive terms, the often complex definitions as to precisely what 5G consists of often causes confusion and, in some cases, cynicism. Indeed, a recent study found that 53% of business leaders see no near-term business case for the technology. While the leaps to 3G and 4G were more noticeable, 5G New Radio speed in sub-6 GHz bands is said to be ‘modestly higher’ than 4G, meaning many still believe networks can do well enough leveraging 4G, while implementing 5G is likely to invoke hefty movements of capital.

In response to this lingering scepticism, George Nazi, Global Lead at Accenture’s network practice, has argued that businesses are missing the point about 5G. Commenting on the state of play following the release of a new study on 5G by Accenture, Nazi said that breakthroughs in three-dimensional video, immersive television, autonomous cars and smart-city infrastructure are set to unleash opportunities that are difficult to imagine today, but will soon be transformative. If companies fail to plan for 5G, they could well miss out on these opportunities.

Nazi added, “The reality is that 5G will bring a major wave of connectivity that opens new dimensions for innovation and commercial and economic development… Telecommunications companies will play a pivotal role in bringing these prospects to light.”

Underestimating 5G disruption

Despite these apparent opportunities, the majority of the 1,800 executives Accenture polled remain unconvinced. 53% of respondents from the mid-sized and large businesses canvassed across industries in ten countries said that there were ‘very few’ things that 5G will enable them to do that they cannot already do with 4G networks. Meanwhile, less than two in every five executives expected 5G to bring any sort of  ‘revolutionary’ shift in terms of either speed or capacity.

There were notable differences in opinion across different sectors, however. According to Accenture, over half of respondents from the energy sector believed 5G will have a revolutionary impact with its ability to reach new places – like remote and inhospitable areas – something which can further boost innovative new techniques in the renewable sphere in particular. Compared with just 41% of all executives surveyed, this suggests that specific sectors likely have an altogether more positive outlook for 5G.

Slow uptake

One factor which might be hindering enthusiasm for 5G is that executives may simply not know much about it. While it is true that these same executives are unlikely to have truly understood 4G either, the fact remains that simply improving the product’s name to the power of one has ceased to impress business leaders enough to invest in the technology. Accenture found that almost three-quarters of executives needed help to foresee future 5G possibilities and use cases.

If the upgrade is to take off, then, its champions will need to work hard to address this. This need is further underlined by the fact that roughly six in every ten survey respondents blamed their lack of knowledge on communication service providers. These providers were subsequently slated by executives, who said they had not been made aware of specific challenges in different industry verticals.

Pivotal role for telcos with 5G

At the same time, around a third of respondents noted a number of other perceived barriers for 5G adoption, which they need to be convinced are worth facing. 36% of respondents predictably said upfront investment was their biggest hurdle to get past – the most sizeable minority of those surveyed. 32%, meanwhile, said security was a concern, and understandable qualm in an environment where many still struggle to protect data under tried and tested 4G systems. Employee uptake was also mentioned as a cause of concern to that end, with 30% of responses.

Despite this, Accenture’s survey still found significant cause for optimism on the subject of 5G. Anders Lindblad, Accenture’s Communications & Media industry lead for Europe, contended that despite the knowledge gap, there is excitement among business leaders about the value that 5G can bring to enterprises.

Lindblad added, “This value is currently trapped within the perceived risks and uncertainty around 5G, which can be unlocked by organisations that understand customer needs, can overcome barriers to adoption and can drive collaboration among service providers.”

Looking ahead, the analysis suggests that 5G service providers have a lot to be upbeat about, especially from 2022 onwards. As many as  70% of survey respondents said 5G applications will give them a competitive edge with customers after that point, suggesting that while uptake will initially be sluggish, it will pick up rapidly in the next three years.

On top of that, respondents also related that they were optimistic with regards to 5G coverage. Three fifths of all those surveyed said that they expect 5G to cover nearly all the population – presumably in their own national territories – by 2022, something which would give them rapid access to new markets across the globe in ways never seen before.

While only 46% of survey respondents thought 5G will be making its mark on speed by 2022, and 42% thought the same about capacity, there is a clear belief that eventually the technology will become indispensible. It just may take some time to do so.