Irish mobile phone usage highest in the western world, global stats reveal

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Adrian Weckler

Irish people are the biggest phone internet users in the western world, new global industry figures suggest. Statistics from Dublin-based research firm Statcounter show that Ireland has the highest penetration of phone internet users anywhere in Europe, North America or South America.

The figures indicate that we use our smartphones for internet activity more than any other western country, with a third of all web access here now coming from our handsets. At the same time, our use of PCs to access the internet in Ireland has slumped from 77pc to 56pc in the last two years.

The proportion of web traffic on phones here is almost a third higher than the European average. It is also a quarter higher than in the UK and over 10pc higher than in the US. It is even higher than mobile-mad Finland, home of Nokia and a birthplace of smartphones.

Large-screen iPhones and Android handsets are causing people to ditch their desktop and laptop computers for all but office-related use, the figures indicate.

Only Asians and Africans use their phones more for web access compared to other devices than Irish people do.

Two years ago, just 15pc of our web time occurred on our phones. That has more than doubled as people turn away from booting up laptops or desktop PCs to use their phones instead. The figures may even understate how dominant phones are becoming, as they do not track app activity but only measure our use of internet web sites.

In Ireland, figures from Ipsos MRBI show that over half of us use social media every day, most of which occurs on phone apps as opposed to web sites.

And a daisy-chain effect is occurring where social media users are becoming responsible for a growing slice of ecommerce and website referral traffic. That makes them increasingly important to retailers and other online businesses.

In the US, the top 500 retailers earned $3.3bn (€3bn) from social shopping in 2014, up 26pc from 2013, according to the Internet Retailer's Social Media 500.

Research from the US media agency Business Insider also found that social referrals are driving much bigger increases in retail traffic than any other online channel.

Social media increased its share of e-commerce referrals nearly 200pc between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015, Business Insider found.

There is little sign of any slowdown in the switch from PCs to mobiles.

The Statcounter research indicates that phones will overtake PCs as our main internet machines in 2016.

However, there has been no significant increase in iPad or tablet usage here, with just 11pc of internet traffic in Ireland happening on tablets.

The telecoms regulator has reported that mobile internet data usage is doubling in Ireland every year as people switch to handsets as their primary web device.

The figures are likely to be of interest to companies trying to plan marketing or advertising campaigns or trying to plan future website upgrades.

Google recently changed its ranking methodology, giving websites that focus more on mobile accessibility preferential treatment to those that still rely on traditional desktop website formats.

Why phones? Because we're social animals

Why are Irish people using phones for online activity so much more than people in other countries? Part of the answer lies in competition among our mobile networks. In Ireland, 20GB of monthly 4G data is now available on a prepay plan for €20 per month in Ireland.

This is cheaper than most other places in Europe or almost anywhere else in the western world: the equivalent facility costs about twice as much in the US. That means that being on Facebook or YouTube is not the kind of data worry that it used to be.

There may also be something to be said for our cultural propensity to be social.

Historically, Irish people have always talked and texted more than people from most other European countries, even at a time when it was far more expensive to do so.

That seems to have migrated to social media, in particular. Look around any Irish bus, café, airport or public street: there are thousands of people staring down at rectangular screens.

And it's not Angry Birds they're engrossed in - it's Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat or something else on the web.

Those who might seek to explain our greater use of PC-replacing smartphones as being down to a lack of PC penetration in Ireland are probably barking up the wrong tree. We aren't very different to most European countries in this regard.

But one thing that isn't at issue is the effect that large-screen phones are having. It's no coincidence that there has been an acceleration in the switch between PCs and phones just at the time when most new phones are now five inches or larger in size.

This phabletisation of our handsets means we don't need to use tablets for anything except video streaming, while laptops are now relegated to work-based activities or hobbyists pursuits such as photo-editing.

If anything, the evidence shows that there's way more to come.

Statcounter's figures for Ireland indicate that there remains a huge number of handsets accessing the web with small screens. When those phone owners upgrade to larger-screen models, all evidence up to now shows that they will be even less inclined to boot up their laptop or tablet when they want to casually access their social media profiles or internet activity.