The rise of mobile isn’t YET the answer for digital inclusion

At the Fourth #socialdigital Research Symposium yesterday Robin Spinks from RNIB showed us all the huge impact mobile devices have on his life. When he’s at a presentation of some sort, he uses his iPad to take a photo and enlarge it so that he can see the words on the screen from his seat. It just reaffirmed the anecdotal evidence, and the instinctive feeling that I have that smartphones and tablets are a game changer for digital inclusion.

There’s no halting the rise of mobile.  On Wednesday this week Apple announced that sales of Apple Macs were down 22%, and sales of iPads has risen by 48%. By 2016, there will be more than 1.5 billion smartphone units globally, compared to 350 million PCs. (Source: Business Insider Intelligence)

I love mobile technology, but despite these impressive statistics, it’s not yet the silver bullet for digital inclusion, and although there’s lots of anecdotal stories (like Robin’s) that it’s helpful, we don’t yet have the evidence to prove it.

Ofcom’s 2012 Communications Market Report says that just 3% of smartphone users rely solely on this one device to connect to the internet, but although 55% of people in socio economic group AB use their mobile phone to go online, this drops to just 33% among socio-economic group DE.

The recently published Government Digital Strategy says there is no correlation between owning a smartphone and income, with 39% of mobile internet users earning less than £12,500, so interestingly it is usage rather than ownership that is linked to income and I would hazard a guess that a great deal of this is related to issues around data. To ensure smartphones and tablets are affordable enough to be useful, it’s important that we invest in a better universal and free wifi provision throughout the country (and I’m not normally a pipes person!).

We also need to make sure that the rise of the mobile device doesn’t have a negative impact on digital skills. In the age of Universal Credit, being able to play Angry Birds or update your Facebook status on the go will not be enough – more than ever, people will need to be able to fill in forms online, bank online, check their benefits online, and we need to support people to gain these skills, both through mobile and less mobile devices like PCs.

So mobile technology isn’t the silver bullet just yet but there are some pretty good things about it. With this in mind, on Monday we launched the first of our courses that works properly on a smartphone and tablet. You can find the course, Make Money Work, here (do try it out on your mobile device). In time, all of our courses will not only be mobile friendly, but will support people to use mobile technologies to make the most of the online world.

What mobile definitely does represent is a great opportunity, allowing us to reach whole new audiences who cannot – or do not want to – benefit from fixed broadband and who find the whole “keyboard and mouse” thing clunky and not useful. It will mean we can develop new, better services that can be available to people through mobile devices, wherever they are. We need to make sure we can keep up with the heady rate that new mobile technologies are developed and ensure that everyone has the confidence, skills and access that they need to use them. By doing that, we may begin to see the true impact mobile technology can have on closing the digital divide maybe not in 2013 but sometime in the not too distant future.

2 thoughts on “The rise of mobile isn’t YET the answer for digital inclusion

  1. We can’t get online with mobile in the same areas we can’t get online with fixed line broadband. By repeatedly ignoring us you are not doing yourself any favours Helen. Mobile technology is for people who are mobile. It relies on the underlying infrastructure, which is currently non-existant in many areas. If we are going to be serious about helping every citizen be digital then technology has to just work everywhere. You cannot drag these poor folk into online centres and convert them to digital when they go home and can’t get online. If you want to help the people then do something to get the pipes. Otherwise you are just wasting your time and our money, and that of your volunteers too.

  2. Pingback: Why mobile first might not be best for Universal Credit | Helen Milner

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