Smartphones and Digital Inclusion: It’s Complicated

One of the main findings from Ofcom’s latest Communications Market report is that the UK is now a “smartphone society”. It was an interesting read but I’m completely fed up of people going on about how the digital inclusion issue is going to be “sorted” by smartphones.

I’m fed up, because the data doesn’t tell that story. Ofcom’s other recent report – Adults’ media use and attitudes – states that 6% of people ONLY use smartphones and tablets as their only internet device. 6%! And this isn’t increasing very fast. It started at 2% in 2009, increasing to 4% and now it’s 6%.

In the world I live in lots of people are on their smartphones, checking social media or looking at the news. It might seem like everyone’s doing it, but in reality only 69% of the population go online outside their homes. That means that 3 in 10 people don’t access the internet on the move which is a big number.

When you dig below the surface, this smartphone malarky is even more complicated


If you take a deeper look into this report the figures show that young people and the people in the lowest socio-economic groups are more likely to use an alternative device to go online.

People use the internet for different things and figures show that the device they use depends on the task they wish to complete. People like to use Gov services, for example, on a computer, but tend to use social media on a smartphone.

So the smartphone is loved for certain things, with a third of all internet users saying it’s their most frequently used device.

Tablet vs Desktop

Tablet use isn’t huge with only 13% of internet users accessing the internet through them. This figure is much lower than desktop computers, and although I’ve not seen a desktop computer for years (except in the UK online centres I’ve visited of course!) there’s about 25% of the population who like to use desktop computers for many activities.

The smartphone is PART of the solution, not THE solution

I think smartphones are an important tool in our box and offer the potential to give many more people access to the internet, especially when it comes to affordability (32% of people who don’t use the internet say that cost is keeping them offline).

And we know that although the vast majority of internet users are using multiple devices touchscreens work particularly well for people who are unfamiliar with the internet, especially for activities like watching TV online and using social media.

Learn My Way is, of course, mobile optimised, but I do sometimes wonder if people (myself included) choose to do some things on a smartphone and other things on a laptop, will the internet ever be so well designed that people can do everything easily on a phone?

But please, please, please don’t get giddy all the time and say there’s evidence that the smartphone is the silver bullet for digital inclusion that so many people seem to think is out there. Look at the evidence. There’s no substitute for old fashioned hard work, local support and making the internet relevant and personal (and affordable too!).

2 thoughts on “Smartphones and Digital Inclusion: It’s Complicated

  1. Pingback: Smartphones and Digital Inclusion: It’s Complicated – Helen Milner | Public Sector Blogs

  2. Isn’t it a positive that there are several ways to access net based information, communication and entertainment and that there are examples of people blending the means they use with different technology according to what suits them best at any one time? Rather than relying on Smartphones (or any other device) to provide a single answer we need to understand what works best for the individual in any given circumstances.

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