% in U.K. homes
It’s not often that one comes across data that describes a complex situation succinctly, but the
chart above does precisely that. The complexity is the disruption caused by changes in technology
and in the chart above it is simply shown in terms of the percentage of U.K. homes that have
devices which connect to the Internet. This data comes from Ofcom, which is the U.K.'s
communications regulator responsible to Parliament. In January they issued a report that
evaluated the U.K. communications industry from the customer’s viewpoint for last year (2013).
Ofcom investigated which devices people use to connect to the Internet in their homes in the U.K.
To create the PowerPoint chart above I’ve combined the data for netbooks and laptops to make
more sense. In many ways the term “netbook” is rapidly becoming obsolete as it covers such
disparate devices as small, cheap laptops and small, thin and expensive “ultrabooks,” as well as
hybrid tablet devices which also have keyboards, like the Asus Transformer T100. Ofcom measured
the hard to define netbook as being used in 8% of all U.K. homes last year.
It is important to observe how people connect to the Internet in the U.K. as in many ways it is the
most advanced online market in the world: Internet advertising overtook TV advertising back in
2009 – a situation that will not happen in the U.S. until at least 2017 or even later. In that same
year eMarketer expects U.K mobile advertising spending to overtake any other form of advertising,
again a situation that is unlikely to prevail in the U.S. for several more years. U.K. e-commerce is
well advanced – all the major U.K. supermarkets have been running online delivery services for
several years, and many retail chains offer established “click and collect” services. Again this is an
area of development in which America, and much of Europe, lags well behind. The U.K. is Google’s
(the Internet’s dominant digital company) most profitable international market and so it provides
detailed figures for the U.K. in its annual reports. That extraordinarily perceptive writer, William
Gibson, once famously remarked: “the future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.” In
many ways the digital future is already here in the U.K. and other countries will surely follow us.
Looking at the chart above, contrary to what many media pundits would have you believe, the
laptop is still the main device, at 74%, used to connect to the Internet in the home. Laptop sales
may have slowed somewhat, but these devices are still dominant, which explains why Microsoft’s
Windows and Office franchise is still generating cash. It also explains why Apple’s comparatively
expensive laptops still sell in large numbers. Laptops have successfully replaced the desktop
computer and have become the everyday work-horse for most domestic Web browsing sessions.
Although, over time they shrank in size, desktop computers continued to remain obtrusive and
heavy adjuncts in many living rooms and bedrooms, nevertheless they have now given way to
convenient, eminently portable devices connected to home Wi-Fi networks enabling them to be
used in any room in the house. And, equally important, they take up little storage space when not
in use. This has been made possible due to better manufacturing techniques that have significantly
increased laptop reliability, coupled with a vicious squeeze on the profit margins of most laptop
makers making them very affordable. It explains why laptop manufacturing companies like HP and
Acer have generated volume sales yet have declining profits. Domestic desktop computers are
disappearing as fast as cathode-ray televisions did in the face of competition from larger, and much
thinner, flat-panel display sets.
Two comparatively recent arrivals on the digital devices scene, smartphones and tablets, are
showing the greatest amount of growth, although the number of laptops used is still rising. More
than half (56% to be precise) of U.K. homes now have occupants equipped with Internet-enabled
smartphones, most of whom will be connecting to their Wi-Fi network when they’re at home to
save carrier charges. The increasing number of smartphones and tablets is the reason why
eMarketer is forecasting that U.K. mobile advertising will exceed TV advertising, or any other form
of advertising for that matter, by 2017.
I’ve written about this phenomenon in the past, the growth in smartphones and tablets is the
reason behind the huge surge in Apple’s income. It’s also why Microsoft felt it necessary to buy
Nokia’s mobile phone business, Facebook saw the need to buy WhatsApp, and why Google bought
Motorola. And it’s also the cause of Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer being forced into an early
retirement. Intel’s CEO met the same fate because the Wintel monopoly was broken. Intel’s
strategy of creating powerful, though battery-hungry, microprocessors was found wanting as ARM
processors steadily became speedier while still using miserly amounts of battery life. Increasing
quantities of digital video is being consumed on smartphones and tablets, as well as on the
ubiquitous laptops. These three devices are severely disrupting concentration on watching
television as viewers continue to multi-task while ostensibly viewing programmes and not, as
formerly, just during television’s commercial breaks. Always-connected devices in the home are
radically transforming people’s behaviour - and also disrupting the Internet itself.
On any desk or laptop computer you almost certainly use a browser, like Internet Explorer, Firefox
or Chrome, to view information provided by the World Wide Web. When using a mobile device you
are far more likely to use a particular “app” than a browser. I’ve found this to be very much the
case for myself: on my laptop I use Firefox all the time but on my Nexus 7 tablet I hardly use
Firefox at all. To track what I was doing I downloaded and installed a handy little app called the
Cisco Data Meter, to measure my tablet data usage. Throughout last month (March) I consumed
over 11 gigabytes of data on my tablet of which Firefox, my choice of Android Internet browsers,
used a measly 17.60 megabytes. Everything else I did on the Internet was via an app, not a
browser. This is most noticeable in the way I consume online news – viewing newspaper websites
via Firefox on a tablet is a pain, having to zoom text in and out, and to scroll left and right.
Supposedly mobile-friendly versions of newspaper websites are not that much better, and they
waste my time.
Over two gigabytes of my monthly tablet data consumption was spent using Google’s Newsstand
app, which makes reading news from a variety of sources far more pleasurable and efficient. I
have the text set to my preferred larger size, and my chosen sources are set to be downloaded for
offline viewing when I’m away from the networks for which I have passwords. By setting my
selected articles to be viewed as mini cards, I can see all of the headlines as well as being able to
choose which to view and which to ignore, something that makes for very rapid and effectual
reading. Any article I’m interested in, either to curate for reference, or for more leisurely reading
on the large screen connected to my laptop, gets emailed to myself directly from the Newsstand
app with a couple of touches of the screen.
Observing my own behaviour confirms the superiority of using an app over a browser when on a
mobile device. My heart tells me the Web should be open, using a browser, and not closed, using
an app, yet a dedicated app is so much easier to use. Take as an everyday example - checking what
the weather is going to be like: This task becomes a pain using a browser on a smartphone or a
tablet, using an app is very much quicker. I prefer to use a free app, created by the BBC, which is
continually updated with my location data via the tablet’s built-in GPS. The BBC Weather app is so
well designed that using it becomes enjoyable as well as being highly efficient.
The big shift to accessing the WWW on smartphones and tablets whilst out and about has caused
many disruptions, the greatest of which may turn out to be the fragmentation of the Web triggered
by using apps, instead of a browser, to view information. I’m sure you know the reason for this,
but just in case you don’t, I’ll explain: A browser can connect you via hyperlinks to anything,
anywhere across the World Wide Web, while an app is designed to perform a precise, self-
contained task in order to offer you a limited service, or to provide you with specific information,
without linking to anywhere else. Like Sir Tim Berners Lee, I want the Web to be open, and not a
walled garden, yet I also want it to be easy and pleasurable to use on mobile devices.
Unfortunately, for the moment these two concepts seem incompatible. Apps have been, and are
being, developed to solve the limitations of mobile devices and in doing so they’re fragmenting the
...with analysis & insight...