I've been working on that 150 times per day number. You may have heard it, Nokia was first to publish the number in 2010, saying that on average a mobile phone (not smartphone, any mobile phone) user will look at the phone 150 times per day. This not only in wild and woolly Finland, but across the planet. We had seen big numbers before, but they were all under 100 times per day and Nokia's bombshell 150 number was widely reported. And then, last year, T-Mobile USA verified the number for the US market as well - a market that severely lags the Industrialized World average in most things mobile - lagging often even many advanced Emerging World countries... So when the USA cellphone users (not smartphone, any cellphone) are looking at their phones 150x per day, thats getting pretty serious.
UPDATE OCTOBER 8, 2014 - Now there is finally a consumer survey published with a published number. A UK survey of only smartphone users (not dumbphones included) found as one might expect, an even larger number. The survey of 2,000 British smartphone owners found they look at their phones 214 times per day. Read more here.
And last year we heard that in the UK, the average smartphone user looks at the phone 200x per day. But lets not worry now about Angry Birds addiction. Lets remain with the basic phone - four out of every five mobile phones in use on the planet still today is a 'dumbphone' ie not a smartphone. I have been trying to validate the 150x number and I've gotten pretty close. So this is my 'argument' in support of 150 times per day. WHAT would a 'typical user' do with the non-smartphone today, that results in looking at the phone once every 7 minutes of every waking hour of every single day? I'll paint a scenario, using for the best part, consumer statistics on behavior on phones, or replacement behavior, plus some observations and personal experiences and chats with some fellow experts.
MESSAGING 23 TIMES
So lets start with the feature used by more than any other as a percent of all mobile phone owners. No, its not voice calls anymore, more people have abandoned voice call use, than don't use SMS text messaging. The primary use of a mobile phone (including smartphones by the way) is mobile messaging. So, what kind of behavior do I see that gets us 23 looks at the phone as a messaging tool. The average person does not send 23 messages per day..
Among active users of SMS, the number is 6 SMS text messages sent per day. If you send 6 messages, you average also receiving 6 messages from your friends. Thats 12 times right there. But what's the rest?
Once per day we draft a message we don't send, or draft a message and save the draft, to edit and send ti later (remember, these are pretty addicted users, who send and receive 6 messages daily). Then we re-read messages (yes! We all do!). So the saved message that we love or hate or didn't understand. I'd say on average 2 times per day we re-read a message we read before. Plus we'd receive perhaps 1 unsolicited message, an ad or alert or reminder etc. And then we anticipate! We check in case there has been a message that had arrived, maybe we are awaiting a reply, maybe we hope for a contact, etc. I say we look for a message that isn't there typically more often, than messages actually arrive - so that would be 7 times we seeked a message that hadn't arrived (yet). That gives us 23 times looking at a phone relating to messaging. (and please don't write about OTT services like iMessage, Whatsapp, BBM or Skype - these are all used by a tiny tiny sliver of the total worldwide population, only Skype reaches 1 Billion users, vs over 5 Billion active SMS users. We are not talking of heavy messaging fanatics on smartphones on WiFi or all-you-can-eat data plans, we are talking typical users worldwide. That means SMS, not OTT)
VOICE CALLS 22 TIMES
Then the voice calls. The average phone user places 3 calls per day and also receives 3 calls. Where are the other 16 times? Interruptions! We have a dropped call (1x per day) or we make a call attempt that won't go through (1x per day). We miss a call that was coming, too slow to pull the phone out, or forgot we had changed our ringing tone (yes, we all have done that too). I say 1x per day we miss a call. Avoid a call? Yes that we also do, we see whose calling, and decide not to talk, send the bastard to voicemail jail. Thats 1x per day. But you know what. We look at the phone we we start the call - we ALSO have to look at the phone to end the call. So out of the 7 actual phone calls, we have to end 7 calls, that gives us 7 more times to look at the phone. Now I'm at 17 times per day. Where are the last 5? Anticipation again. We look at the phone awaiting or anticipating a call or call-back. I'd say 5 times per day. That gives a total of 22 times we look at our phone relating to voice calls, per day.
CLOCK 18 times per day
If the average person sleeps 8 hours per night, that gives us 16 hours awake. I say we play with the alarm going to sleep and waking up, so out of the 16 hours, there are only 14 hours when we are reasonably awake and care about what time it is, when we don't fiddle with the alarm or snooze. And of that, we then have some moments on a typical day, that we are anxious about time - in the morning, going to work or school, worrying about being on time - and I'd say we look at the clock two times at that occasion, rather than once per hour. Same around lunch-time at work/school, when is this interminable meeting going to end, isn't it lunch-time already? And again, at the end of the work/school day - when we anticipate getting away from work/school. So on those occasions, I'd say conservatively that we look at the clock twice per hour, and on other times, we are curious about what time it is, roughly once per hour - often very habitually, and even subconsciously - so you know the story, the wife sees the husband just glanced at the watch, and asks him, what time is it, and he can't tell you, even though he just looked at his watch a moment ago... Anyway, I get 18 total times we look at the clock on the phone, not counting setting or resetting or shutting the alarm.
ALARM 8 TIMES
Which brings us to the alarm. I've been saying for years that the mobile is the last thing we see before we fall asleep and the first thing we see when we wake up. Its nice to see that was also verified by the Time global mobile survey finally in 2012. But yes, what of the alarm? To set it, I'd say the average person does that once, and then once before falling asleep, or waking up at night, or a little before the wake-up, looks at the alarm setting, just in case. Thats 2 times total. Then the wake-up alarm, 1x more. And then snoozing. I'd say average person snoozes three times? That gives us 6 uses of the alarm as a wake-up. But its not the only use of the alarm. We also use it as a convenience reminder during the day. I'd add 2 more uses of the alarm daily, once to set, once to turn off the ringing. That gives us 8 times we look at the alarm feature on the phone.
CAMERA 8 TIMES
Then the camera. Most of us are not shutterbugs who take dozens of pictures every day, but the consumer surveys suggest the average cameraphone owner takes about 1 picture per day. How do I get 8 times to look at the phone? First we have to launch the camera app. Then we have to aim the camera at our object. Then we take a picture. And we have to check if the picture turned out good. And likely it wasn't good enough. We take a second picture. And look at that picture, decide its a keeper. Then we delete the first pic. And finally, we randomly look or show a picture during the day. That gives me 8 uses of camera.
MUSIC PLAYER 13 TIMES
Not everybody uses music on the phone but nearly half of mobile phone owners do consume some kind of music from music streaming services to using the phone as an MP3 player to ringing tones. Lets take the music player option - nowadays a staple with very modest priced dumbphones already. And I think a typical user would find 4 times per day to listen to music. When listening, sometimes we hit a song we don't like or don't feel like listening to (or finishing) so we skip. I'd say we skip 3 times per day. Like a voice call, we have to turn off the music player when we're done, thats another 4 times we look at the phone. And I'd say on average we get interrupted once per day to pause the song that is playing - such as for an incoming call or message - and then resume the music. That gives me 13 times looking at the phone for music consumption.
GAMING 12 TIMES
For gaming, I'm now thinking basic time-killer games like Snake or Tetris, not Angry Birds. Launch the game 3 times, end the game 3 times. Interrupted twice, resumed twice, and looking at scores or settings 2 times per day. 12 times of use of the phone for gaming purposes.
CALENDAR 5 TIMES
I think a calendar might be used 5 times per day, once to make a new entry per day, 3 times to see whats up next, and once to edit or delete an entry.
SOCIAL MEDIA 9 TIMES
Accessing Facebook, Twitter of the like perhaps 5 times per day. As the usage tends to be longer, there is plenty of opportunities to be interrupted, so I'd say 2 interruptions and resumptions per day. Remember, we are talking of typical users, not heavily addicted youth, so the usage is not intense, also these users are not on 'all you can eat data plans' so their social media surfing is somewhat limited by the costs involved.
NEWS 6 TIMES
Nearly half of all mobile phone owners already consume news on their phones. It would mostly be on two primary types, the type where you go find the news ie access your fave news site(s) like the BBC or CNN or for pop music celebrity news, MTV etc.. And then there are the alerts you may subscribe to. I'd say 4 news alerts arrive per day and we actively go to news sites twice per day, for a typical user.
SEARCH 3 TIMES
And yes, increasingly we use search on our phones. But the search behavior is markedly different from PC based online access to Google and our other search engines. Mobile search is often urgent and very specific. But it often becomes the most valued app and service on the phone. A third of people in New Zealand have for example used mobile search to settle a bet or argument. Like I say, the mobile has become the Magical Truth Machine in our pocket. But lets say the typical user only searches 3 times per day on the mobile (remember, several hundred million internet users on mobile don't even own or have access to any PC based internet device, their dumbphone and its web browser and clumsy keyboard interface is the only internet they have access to - and at per-use data charging too!)
WEB 3 TIMES
And random internet services. Going to the website of the bank, or the travel agent, or the ecommerce site, or whatever. Again, I'd think this number is easily much bigger, but lets keep it at 3. Remember, these are NOT touch screen iPhon-a-clones, these are rudimentary basic phones, featurephones at best.
VIDEO 6 TIMES
Mobile videos are easily addictive and many carriers offer special video tariffs on their 3G data plans etc. We often receive links to videos, and videos can be sent and received via MMS. I'd say we watch 4 video clips per day, interrupted once, and resumed once. That gives us 6 uses relating to video. This also includes saved videos on our phones, something we shot on our own cameras, something that was forwarded to us, or perhaps moved via a microSD card or Bluetooth. And isn't it funny, we will look at that tired short video clip many many times when we have nothing else to do...
CHARGING PHONE 3 TIMES
And then the charging of the phone. We connect the phone, we come to see if its charged yet (not yet) and we remove the charger when the battery is full or we can't afford to wait longer. Three times we looked at the phone relating to its recharging, on a typical day.
VOICE MAIL 1 TIME
And we access our voice mails perhaps once per day. Remember, when one of our calls is redirected to voice mail, we are indeed using someone else's voicemail but it doesn't require us to do anything at our end, its just that the voice call was kind of hijacked by the voicemail system. But when we have to go listen to our voicemails, then yes, we have to make the extra effort.
If my math is correct, we are at 140 times per day. Then lets toss in random other uses about 10 times per day, including maps, downloading apps, voting for TV shows, using the torch/light feature (or turning the screen on in the dark for same effect), showing the phone such as placing it on a table, doing the SIM-card-switch, sending or receiving Bluetooth files, installing or removing microSD cards, replacing the battery, receving a mobile ad, making a m-payment like parking, bus ticket, lottery, or looking for a WiFi connection, double-checking battery status, etc etc etc etc etc.
That gives a totally plausible 150 times per day for a non-smartphone user who is not a massively over-addicted youth user either.
So what do you think? Did I miss obvious areas that have large usage globally across all ages and demographics - remember, we cannot focus on smartphones, only one in five mobile handsets in use today is a smartphone (but are now selling more than half of new handset sales in many countries, so this will change rapidly).
All analysis here not explicitly identified by source is source: TomiAhonen Consulting January 2013. The data and examples and calculations in this blog may be freely shared and also may be freely turned into any graphics.
And for those who need to understand the mobile market more deeply, check out the TomiAhonen Almanac 2012 - buy it now, get the 2013 edition when it is released in a few weeks, for no extra charge!