The home PC has been a central part of the American technology user’s world for years, and while remaining so for many, the home PC is slowly losing its primacy among some market segments.
Home PCs have been challenged by the emerging use of smartphones and tablets, and not only among younger Americans. Older Americans have also rapidly adopted smartphones and are starting to discover how to use them well. Home PC makers, software developers, and service providers have worked hard to keep the home PC as a central device, or at least one that is included.
The home PC is not down and out – not by a long shot. The humble PC is in use by most online Americans. In 2020, 75% of online adults in the US actively use a home PC. From 2015 to 2019, this level was effectively flat at 80%.
Home mobile notebooks are popular for keeping at home
Mobile computing means much more than being able to work or play while traveling. Despite travel restrictions and worldwide stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, mobile computers reign as the most-popular home computer. Well over half (57%) of online adults use a home notebook, compared to 46% using at least one home desktop. MetaFacts surveyed online adults in six countries for the 2020 wave of TUP/Technology User Profile: the US, UK, Germany, China, Japan, and India. Notebook use is strongest in Japan (72% of online adults) and Germany (67%), and lightest in the US (50%).
Notebook use is strongest in Japan (72% of online adults) and Germany (67%), and lightest in the US (50%). In fact, the majority of home notebook computers have historically stayed at home. Many users choose notebook computers over desktops so they can take it with them in case they travel, for school, or if they may decide to bring it along to a coffee shop or library. However, the most mobility many notebooks may ever see is the trip from the kitchen to the living room.
Home notebooks get newer
Online adults around the world are using a notebook that is less than three years old on average. Apple has recently released updated Apple MacBooks and they are starting to get into the hands of users to update the installed base. Some users keep their notebooks longer than others. In Japan and Germany, online adults are actively using MacBooks for an average of 3 years (Japan) and 2.7 years (Germany). In contrast, online users in China and Japan are using newer home notebooks.
Google Chromebooks have the lowest age of home notebooks in the active installed base. This is primarily because the market has been slow to adopt Chromebooks. Some users are Google-averse or are not using other Google service such as Google drive that could offer them some benefits of using a Chromebook. Other users prefer more feature-rich notebooks. Yet other users simply prefer Apple MacBooks.
Home notebooks are well-used
Home notebooks are used for a wide range of activities, from everyday web browsing to focused activities such as online banking and shopping.
It could be argued that with the Internet and a browser, notebooks are not fundamentally different whether they are running Windows, Apple, or Chrome OS. However, users do not see it that way, as shown in the bottom line of how they use their home notebooks.
Chromebooks, the most basic of notebooks, are being used for a narrower breadth of activities than either MacBooks or Windows notebooks. Fewer Chromebook users do the same activities other home notebook users regularly do. The relatively strongest activity among Chromebook users is shopping (36% versus 38% overall) and searching on health topics (30% versus 33% overall).
Part of these usage differences say more about the types of customers attracted to a Chromebook than about the hardware or operating system. In broad socioeconomic terms, Chromebooks are used by adults in lower socioeconomic groups, Windows used throughout all strata, and Apple used primarily by upper socioeconomic groups.
MacBooks are also not used for as wide a range of activities as Windows home notebooks. However, several activities are strongest among home MacBook users. With Apple’s tightly coupled ecosystem with iPhones such as with Handoff, text messaging and phone calls rank higher than on Windows or Chromebooks. Also, managing home security/climate/lighting is stronger among MacBook users, although likely because of the stronger tech profile of its users and less so about only using Apple’s HomeKit.
Home Windows notebooks are used the most broadly. More Windows notebook users use their notebooks more than MacBook or Chromebook users for all the major activities except one – cloud storage of personal files.
Home notebooks will continue to be a mainstay for home technology devices for the foreseeable future. Although smartphones have started to be used for several activities, particularly for communication, they have far to go before fully replacing notebooks. Similarly, while online adults with tablets are using them for many of the same activities, tablet penetration still lags far behind notebook use.
About this TUPdate
The information referred to in this TUPdate is based on the results gathered in TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, its 38th annual wave, and based on surveys of online adults in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, China, and India.
Current subscribers to TUP/Technology User Profile will be receiving a full report on notebooks, desktops, who is using them, and how they are being used as part of TUP and its PC chapter. Also, clients with inquiry privileges may request more detailed analysis into their own choice of market segments, technology products and services.
Progress toward work-life separation, until sudden integration
I will admit to having recently used more than one cliché about these being “unprecedented times” or even that we’re headed towards a “new normal”.
When it comes to work-life balance, what was “normal” is all-too “precedented”. For years, PCs have enabled American employees to bring work home. Enabling is not always a positive characteristic, depending on one’s perspective. No sooner had employees scaled down their work at home, minimizing their commingled work and personal activities, then along came COVID-19.
Employees using Home PCs for work – a recent history
For decades, employees have slowly separating their personal and work lives. Step by step, application by application, employees had been using their home PCs for fewer and fewer work-related tasks. In the MetaFacts 2015 wave of TUP/Technology User Profile, we found that one in three US employees regularly used their home PCs for work email, one in five to search for work-related financial or other information, and one in six to manage work appointments or share files. By our 2019 wave, we found that home PC usage levels for these work activities had dropped to around two-thirds of these levels.
Now that six in ten US employees are working from home, and with almost half (49%) using a home-owned PC, their home PC is getting a lot of work-related use.
This TUPdate investigates and profiles working Americans who are working from home. With the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shifts taking place now, many are not technologically ready for a work-at-home or stay-at-home experience.
MetaFacts is conducting a series of surveys, with current waves conducted March 26-30, 2020, and April 8, 2020.
Here are some highlights from the study. Insights professionals with interest can learn more about obtaining the full results of the study by contacting MetaFacts.
The demographics of working from home
Working from home is in full swing for now. Although not all workers can or are working from home, those who are mostly use (not employer-provided) personal computing devices. They also favor consumer-oriented video communications platforms. Their purchase intentions are weak, and mostly focused on backfilling the basics needed for working from home.
Two-thirds (64%) of online Americans who are employed or self-employed were working at home on April 8, 2020.
There are many Americans who aren’t. One in eight (12%) who were employed in February 2020 are not currently working.
Of those working from home, most are in upper socioeconomic groups.
More than three-fourths (78%) of adults in households with income of $85,000 or more in the prior year are working from home. This is in stark contrast to the near-half levels among those with incomes of less than $50,000 per year.
Full-time employees and those who were already self-employed in a home-based business in February 2020 also had the highest work-at-home rates.
Computing Devices for Work
Most workers working from home are using their own personally-purchased products as their primary computing device. 58.2% of workers working from home as of April 8th, 2020 were using a personal device versus 41.8% who were using an employer-provided device.
Among Information Workers – those workers who were already using an employer-provided PC in February 2020 – 39.7% are using a personal device as their primary computing device for work.
Working from home means a mobile device, even though due to stay-at-home restrictions mobile tech workers can’t bring them to coffee cafés. Working from home is a new experience for many, and most homes don’t have a dedicated workspace, much less a dedicated desk for the new work-at-home worker. So, portability even with a home is helpful. Mobile devices – notebook PCs – are the primary computing device for Americans working as of April 8, 2020.
Video calling and conferencing by those working at home
Zoom has earned a lot of attention and users during the pandemic as a popular option for anyone online working at home seeking to connect by video with friends and family, as well as with coworkers and customers. Among workers working at home, Zoom is used most widely for work video calls and video conferences. Apple’s FaceTime is most widely used for personal video calls. For personal video conferences, Skype is slightly ahead of Zoom. For personal video calls, Apple’s FaceTime leads.
More broadly, Microsoft’s, Google’s, and Facebook’s combined video communications platforms reach the greatest share of at-home workers. Microsoft’s offerings – Skype, Meet Now, or Teams – taken together are used by the most at-home workers, slightly ahead of Google’s set of offerings – Hangouts, Duo or Meet. Facebook’s set are mostly used for personal video conferences or calls.
When we asked workers about their purchase plans for the next three months, no single technology was mentioned among one-tenth of workers.
Nearly as many workers have plans for tech products or services they will purchase with their own funds as expect to have bought by their employers.
Workers expect their employers to acquire collaboration software, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, or even cloud-based collaboration tools. Workers also anticipate their employers to set up VPNs-Virtual Private Networks to help maintain the security of their communication with their workplace networks or computers. Third on most worker’s list are an extra monitor/display and a desk, both items widely found in many workplaces.
From their own personal funds, workers plan to purchase a notebook PC, webcam, and extra monitor/display. (Presumably if their employer doesn’t come through). Other basics for replicating a work-at-home office include a headset or headphones, tablet (perhaps for working from the couch?), speakers, a chair, and a desk.
Employment and non-employment by demographics
Between February 2020 and April 8, 2020 (the date of this survey), the number of employed Americans dropped precipitously. Nationally, 88% of online adult Americans that were employed in February were still working by April 8, 2020, meaning that 12% were not. This share is generally in line with unemployment claims reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both time periods include those working full-time, part-time, or self-employed.
The demographics about who was and was not still working shows a wide variation. Generally, fewer lower-income, part-time, and lesser-skilled workers are still working than were working in February.
The pandemic has currently affected some regions more than others. There are also regional differences in stay-at-home orders, those deemed essential, and those affected by business closures or layoffs. Among the major states, New York has the highest national percentage of non-workers, followed by New Jersey and California.
Occupation and working from home
Change in Employment from February to March 2020, by Occupation
Educational attainment and working from home
Primary Work Computing Device – February and March 2020
In February 2020, which computing device did you use as your primary work device?
While working at home, what is your primary computing device?
Benefits of working from home
Age of workers working from home
Household size for Americans working from home
Home Delivery Services for workers working at home
Definitions of terms used in this analysis
April 8 Workers – working full-time, part-time, or self-employed on April 8, 2020
March Workers – working full-time, part-time, or self-employed during March 2020
February Workers – working full-time, part-time, or self-employed during February 2020
Work from home – working from home as of the fielding date of the wave
Information workers – having had an employer-provided desktop PC in February 2020
About this TUPdate
The analysis in this TUPdate is based on results drawn from a MetaFacts survey conducted March 26-30, 2020 with 772 online adults, and conducted April 8, 2020 with 530 online adults, drawn to be representative of American online adults who were working full-time, part-time, or self-employed in February 2020.
Current TUP/Technology User Profile subscribers may request the supporting TUP information used for this analysis or for even deeper analysis. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP, please contact MetaFacts.
As a long-time information worker, remote worker, and road warrior, I’ve learned to be flexible, resourceful, and use technology to my advantage. Whether I’ve been crunching numbers or presenting results from a café in Paris, my office, home, or somewhere in between, I’ve carried an evolving assortment of tech devices so I can stay connected and work.
However, there are many people who haven’t had this experience, and may not be prepared or supported.
This TUPdate investigates several groups of consumers and workers who will soon be encountering changes in their use of technology devices and services. With the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shifts taking place now, many are not technologically ready for a work-at-home or stay-at-home experience.
Although a home PC isn’t a requirement to get online, it’s still the most widely used and most-useful device for many activities.
Among one key group – information workers – one of the most tech-savvy and tech-reliant groups, a work PC is the cornerstone of their work activity. Even though most also have smartphones, home PCs, and tablets, there are only a few work activities done more often on any other type of device. Smartphones, despite the many apps developed for them and their constant presence, only surpass work PCs for making phone and video calls. Tablets, which are increasingly becoming PC-like (and not only because of Apple’s marketing), aren’t being used similarly to PCs for work activities.
Information workers are only one of several groups to stand out as not having home PCs and being the most able to benefit from them. For this analysis, I’ve used TUP/Technology User Profile to look at three groups:
Information workers – workers who have a work PC
Adult students – attending a college, university, or other learning institution full-time or part-time
Elders – age 55 or older
Information workers as a group are the least ready to be working remotely. While some employers provide work notebooks that could potentially be used at home, most don’t. Forty percent of US information workers and 58% of German information workers are self-supported, having no work notebook but having a home PC. Even higher, 54% of US information workers and 65% of German information workers are unsupported information workers, having no work notebook.
While it’s possible that some employers will simply have employees bring their work desktops home for the duration of their time working at home, I expect that not to be widespread.
A smaller share of students than information workers have no home PC. Among American students, this share (29%) is larger than among students in Germany. Although some assignments and online classes and may be conducted using a smartphone or tablet, I expect many will require the larger screens or horsepower of a PC. Tablets aren’t an immediate answer at hand: only 26% of students without home PCs use a tablet.
Elders are another group likely to remain at home. Although there are regional differences about the age level of persons mandated to remain at home, those requirements are changing quickly. For this analysis, I set the bar low for typical definitions of being an elder or senior – at 55 or older.
Within elders, I also investigated a particularly vulnerable group – elders living alone. This group is one of the most connected groups of all these groups, at least with respect to the penetration of home PCs. Only 5% of American elders and 2% of German elders don’t have a home PC.
The conditions for COVID-19 pandemic are uncertain. I expect most employers to support their information workers with additional technology, even though historically that’s only been the case for the minority of employers.
For self-supporting information workers that already have a home PC, this employer support is most likely to come in the form of expanded software licensing to support employees that need special software to get their job done, and remote access software to allow employees to reach their office-located desktops, servers, or networks. In many cases, especially among larger employers or technically sophisticated employers, new support will include the requisite VPN and security software to help protect the employer’s confidential information. For those self-supporting information workers with home PCs that are too old or underpowered to support the employee’s needs, some employers may order and provide work PCs for their employee’s homes. Other employers may rely on the employees to personally obtain a home PC so the employee can continue to work.
For unsupported information workers that don’t have a home PC, I expect most employers to provide a work PC or to encourage or to reimburse their employees for a home PC. As for self-supporting information workers, additional software, connectivity, and likely printing capabilities will be needed as well.
This is a quickly changing time, and it’s currently unknown how long the stay-at-home/work-from-home provisions will remain in place. However, over the last two decades, technology users have shown a strong amount of habit energy and inertial. What they do with technology changes slowly, even while there are rapid shifts in the devices and services they use – and where they use them!
Inertia simultaneously saves and disrupts technological transformation. Scanners and printers with integrated scanners have been at the heart of the paper to digital change. So much that was paper is now electronic. The “paperless office” has been a hyped cliché for decades, and yet is truer with each passing year. Although electronic signatures have been legal for over 20 years in most countries, and digital copies are increasingly acceptable in many cases, the migration from paper to electronic lumbers along gradually. Consumers and businesses alike continue to need to convert hardcopy documents and images into electronic form.
About this TUPdate
The analysis in this TUPdate is based on results drawn from the TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 edition which is TUP’s 37th continuous wave. This survey-based study details the use of technology products by a carefully-selected and weighted set of respondents drawn to represent online adults.
Current TUP subscribers may request the supporting TUP information used for this analysis or for even deeper analysis. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP, please contact MetaFacts.