Smartphones challenge Mobile PCs – the users speak

A TUPdate from MetaFacts by Dan Ness, Principal Analyst

You can’t go out for coffee these days without sharing space with legions of dedicated smartphone users doing everything from texting their friends to checking the latest NFL or soccer scores. With smartphone functionality and the number of available apps increasing at hyper speed, could this trend foreshadow the decline of the mobile computer and relegate all those laptops, netbooks and tablets to the land of the Atari? Will Apple iPhones, RIM Blackberries, Winphones or the Android-powered grab the fingers of the most-mobile among us?  Our new MetaFacts Technology User Profile, 2009 Global Insights Edition polled over 22,000+ online PC adults in 10 developed countries and found some surprising answers.

Why is this important?

Makers of mobile computers, smartphone manufacturers, wireless carriers and application developers should all be watching these trends closely both from an R&D standpoint and a marketing perspective. OEMs of desktop computers should also take heed if more and more users opt for portables even if they don’t use them in more than one location.

First let’s look at who’s using mobile PCs these days and where they are using them. Not surprisingly, this is a younger group overall. The average age of online adult mobile PC users is nearly seven years younger than the average desktop user. Nearly a third of the mobile computer users are in the college age to early career category of 18-34 year olds.

Just where are mobile PCs being used? The age of the user is also a factor here. The younger users are, the more likely they were to report using their mobile computers in four or more locations, a finding that is likely reflective of the more mobile lifestyle of this segment.

But desktop and mobile PC manufacturers take notice: Nearly half of mobile PCs are used in only one location. This begs the question of why these homebody mobiles are stuck in their desk job. If this trend continues, will the pendulum swing away from netbooks and ever-lighter notebook PCs back to full-featured desktop replacements?

And the mobile PCs seem to be working harder than desktops. The portables are logging more hours than their desktop cousins with nearly 25% being used for 40 or more hours per week versus 18% of desktops being used that much.

So what are these mobile computer users doing with their portables? While their activities are generally the same as those performed on their desktops, the survey showed that mobile PCs which are used in multiple locations appeared to be much more integrated into the user’s life. These younger multiple-location PC users reported performing nearly double the number of activities on their mobile PCs than the group reporting that their mobile PCs remained tethered to one location.

The more years people use computers, the more activities they add to their list of things to do with their machines. PC Veterans, people who have used computers over a quarter of their lives, use their mobile PCs for more activities than PC Newbies, regardless of their age. Not surprisingly, users in the 18-24 age category use their mobile PCs more often for entertainment and communication than older mobile computer users.

Now let’s turn to the role that cell phones play in the mobile PC world. With the ever-increasing functionality of phones, is the choice of mobile connectivity an either/or when it comes using mobile computers and smartphones? Our survey showed quite the opposite. Even the savviest of smartphone users are not likely to give up their mobile computers. Interestingly, the adults who reported using the most functionality on their phones also reported using their mobile PCs in more locations, nearly twice the number of those who used their mobile phones only as basic phones. Bottom line: When it comes to the question of whether to take the smartphone or the mobile PC to the cybercafé, the current answer is often “both.”

If today’s mobile PCs could talk, they might paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous quote, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Further Resources

MetaFacts Technology User Profile – 2009 Global Insights Edition – a syndicated survey of 30,889 representative respondents in 16 countries

MetaFacts Technology User Profile – 2009 Global Insights Edition – Developed Economies – a syndicated survey of 22,072 representative respondents in 10 countries

MetaFacts Mobile PC Brand Profile Report – analysis of the mobile market based on results in MetaFacts Technology User Profile 2008 Annual Edition – a syndicated survey of over 10,000 representative respondents in the U.S.

About this TUPdate

MetaFacts releases ongoing research on the market shifts and profiles for Windows Vista, Mobile PCs, Workplace PCs, Home PCs, Moms and Dads, Web Creators, Broadband, and many other technology industry topics. These TUPdates are short analytical articles in a series of specific topics utilizing the Technology User Profile Annual Edition study, which reveals the changing patterns of technology adoption around the world. Interested technology professionals can sign up at for complimentary TUPdates – periodic snapshots of technology markets.

About MetaFacts

MetaFacts, Inc. is a national market research firm focusing exclusively on the technology industries. MetaFacts’ Technology User Profile survey is the longest-running, large-scale comprehensive study of its kind, conducted continuously since 1983, the year before Apple released the Apple Macintosh. The detailed results are widely recognized as a primary market sizing and segmentation resource for leading companies providing consumer-oriented technology products and services, such as PCs, printers, software applications, peripherals, consumer electronics, mobile computing, and related services and products. For more information about the syndicated research service, publications and datasets, contact MetaFacts at 1-760-635-4300.