Mobile Vs. Desktop Internet Usage (Latest 2021 Data)

Posted under: Blog, Desktop, Internet and Mobile

Are you reading this article on your desktop (or laptop), or are you reading it on your smartphone? That is the basic question at the heart of this article.

It is also an important question, as these statistics and trends will influence many industries and where they put their efforts and investments. Mobile websites started becoming a lot more usable, sleek, and competitive after more people started getting smartphones and used them for a wide variety of uses. The increased processing power of smartphones, now rivaling the desktops of the past and certainly on par with some laptops, has allowed them to do practically anything, reducing the gap even further.

While we cannot possibly go over every last statistic and detail regarding this comparison (and to a degree competition), here are some of the key facts, stats, and topics you should be thinking about, whether for your business plans or personal interests:

Mobile vs. Desktop Usage Today

For starters, where are we at today? Most people reading this likely use both a mobile device and a desktop (or at the least a laptop, which for the purposes of this article we are considering a desktop), and while some people favor one or the other, that can make things difficult in terms of optimization, finding the best way to communicate with people, and businesses splitting their technical focus on different user experiences.

If we are looking at things in terms of market share, as of February 2021 mobile has taken the lead at just below 55 percent of the market, with desktop devices taking up 42 percent. The remaining three percent can be attributed to tablets, which while not widely use still are a part of the online environment (although act more like mobile devices in most cases, due to their operating systems).

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We would like to note, however, that this data is worldwide. If we were to look at these numbers for the United States, about 50 percent of people use a desktop while 46 percent of the market share goes to mobile devices. Tablets make up 4 percent.

Time spent on websites still favors desktops, with 55.9 percent of time, perhaps because most time spent on phones is on specific apps or messaging other people. Additionally, many websites are designed with desktops in mind, and the most functionality from them can be received that way. This is changing, but it will likely be some time until we see true balance in this regard.

People looking for a better internet connection and faster speeds will still want to use their desktops, as a fixed connection is on average faster than a mobile one by quite a margin. This may change a bit with 5G technology, however (more on that later).

From looking at the chart above, you can see that general usage of mobile devices is on the rise as compared to desktops, perhaps as a result of people being able to do more on their smartphone over the years, and smartphones becoming easier and more intuitive to use. More people are owning more mobile devices as well, with an example being one or two-family computers but everyone owning a smartphone.

Searching and Immediate Access

About 3.8 million Google searches are made every minute, and 2 trillion searches are made every year. This is a practically unfathomable number and showcases just how much we rely on search engines. Searching is how we find most content (you probably found this article via a search), and websites and companies will spend millions on SEO endeavors to make sure that they are on top of the results. Working with Google is necessary to succeed online, it seems, but what does that mean for mobile usage? What comparisons can be made?

Here are a few differences and facts you should know:

  • Mobile searches consist of about 60 percent of all search volume, though the exact measurements can vary, and the percentage can vary greatly depending on the search topic.
  • Not only are the number of searches different between mobile and desktop users, but how people search and what people search for will vary depending on the device used. More locally focused searches will happen more often on a mobile device (perhaps something like looking for the nearest gas station or fast-food restaurant), while more general questions are used on desktops.
  • While the statistics change far too often and have too many caveats for us to feel that we can accurately present them here, we would like to note that search rankings can and do change based on whether you search on mobile or desktop. You can try this out for yourself. Sometimes the changes will be small, but the topic can determine a lot in these instances.
  • Yet how long do people stay on websites after their search or decision? According to Semrush, people are not staying as long on mobile sites when compared to previous years, while desktop users have no clear trend.

This might not necessarily mean that people have lower attention spans on mobile, but instead, perhaps that mobile sites are more efficient or people go on mobile sites for shorter tasks or information gathering.

The Difference in eCommerce

People buy a lot of goods online, either virtual or physical. And the pandemic has only served to fast-track this trend, with everything from groceries to clothes now being delivered from online orders in quantities never before considered. Yet on what devices do people order from?

  • Based on the data we have available, it seems that more people are ordering goods on mobile, whether on the couch or out on the go (we cannot be certain either way), than ever before.
  • However, we would like to note that many businesses have not perfected their mobile experience yet, leaving customers more willing and able to go to a competitor. This is seen in the conversion rates listed below, and is a clear sign that businesses need to invest and research more into the mobile experiences.
  • Interestingly, while plenty of people are willing to shop around online and look at potential products, more people like to sit down with their desktop or laptop to actually make a purchase. The ecommerce conversion rate for desktops was 4.81 percent while the rate for mobile devices was only 2.25 percent. When people sit down, they want to make a purchase.
  • When people make purchases online, the cart gets bigger on desktop. The average cart size was 24 percent higher from desktop users and 14 percent higher on tablets than from mobile devices.
  • Around the world, more people are getting smartphones and mobile devices than desktops, which can explain the jump. Unless people are enthusiasts or need it for work, it can be justified not having a decent laptop or even a laptop at all. Everyone does need a phone, however.
  • Even in the business-to-business world, about 50 percent of inquiries come from mobile devices, and the source seems to indicate that the percentage is rising. Even working people will be using their phones more to determine future business plans and contracts.

Social Media

To many people the most important change in modern life, social media is an unignorable part of our daily lives and many people cannot go without it. About a quarter of all digital media consumption is on social media, and  Fortunately for them, they do not have to, with every app worth its salt being available on a mobile device. Here’s a bit more on that trend and what the role of desktops still is:

  • Most of social media is taken in on mobile, perhaps in large part due to the fact that the social media giants invest in it so much. Twitter was basically designed with phone usage in mind, and some apps such as snapchat barely even bother with a desktop client at all. They just assume phone usage.

While there is a clear note that more social media usage on phones, how does each social media network break down things exactly?

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  • Even LinkedIn, which is by far the least casual social media site, is still dominated by mobile usage. It will be safe to say that any future social media site that pops up will have to have a strong mobile infrastructure and design or be doomed from the get-go.
  • Social media usage in particular is dominated by the mobile device market, perhaps because social media sites have invested so much time and money into making the perfect (if addictive) mobile experience. About 83 percent of social media usage is on a mobile device, compared to 15 percent from desktops or laptops.
  • Furthermore, about half of people using social media only use it on their phones. In some cases, this might be because a social media app is only available on mobile, but clearly, much of it is because people simply do not feel the need to use it on desktop.

Of course, while many of these stats will stay relatively in stone, the fabric of social media is changing constantly, and the apps we use might change over the course of months or even weeks.

Media Use, Streaming, and the Usage of Our Free Time

How are people spending their time on either their phones or their computers? Is there something about a mobile device that wants us want to waste our time, or is the opposite the case? What do the capabilities of each device have to offer the casual user?

The exact answers to these questions have as much to do with the apps and programs people use as much as the specifications of the devices in question. If a popular desktop app or program gets a mobile version that can do exactly the same thing or in some cases even more, we are likely to see a shift in the numbers. Rarely do we see the opposite occur, although for certain tasks a larger screen and proper keyboard are much more popular (few people will prefer to write their papers or long documents on a smartphone.)

Furthermore, we are going to see an increase in mobile usage as more people are able to get a better and more consistent connection on their mobile device, mobile devices trend towards larger screen sizes (with better picture quality and potential resolutions), and more apps designed perfectly for mobile.

Here are a few numbers to showcase the trends:

  • In terms of just general free time usage, the numbers may shock you. Americans spend an average of 5.4 hours each day on their phones, checking them an average of 63 times each day (probably without even realizing it) and 6.5 hours each day being online in general.
  • About eight hours per day on average we are streaming content, and we have on average subscriptions to four streaming services. We are spending more of our time each day connected virtually than we are not, and whether that is an interesting trend or an alarming one depends on one’s perspective and the long-term effects of this screen usage.
  • People do like to watch videos on their mobile devices. As of 2016 half of all video views came from mobile devices, and this number will only rise as mobile devices can guarantee an improved viewing experience and better internet connection.
  • Mobile gaming is clearly on an upward trend as well, though the situation might be a little different from other forms of usage. Only 25 percent of gaming revenue comes from PC usage, while 47 percent comes from mobile gaming (the remaining 28 percent comes from console gaming). This is despite the fact that gaming desktops and consoles can run more games at higher levels of performance.
  • Some of this might be because mobile games are easily accessible, and additionally because gaming consoles and gaming desktops can be rather expensive.
  • This also might be because monetization models on mobile devices are more aggressive, as opposed to the more common purchase and play model with console games.
  • While in some ways we can expect the gaming revenue trend to continue and the mobile share of the market to go up, there are natural ups and downs in the console market and even the PC market based on major releases and new consoles. Those trends will need to be examined on a larger scale when we have more data in a few years.

The Impact of 5G

Above nearly anything else the available technology and developments shape these trends, and that not only include apps and potential smartphone use cases but the base technology at the heart of mobile service as well. And while 5G has not fully rolled out by any means, in 2021 we will start to see more of its usage, and more people will notice the benefits. While in some cases the improvements will be minimal, in the most extreme cases people might see their mobile data download speeds increase by ten times or more.

This could have a significant impact on what people do on their phones. While most current apps and tasks such as online banking and checking social media or email can easily be done with 4G technology, 5G can allow for easy streaming on content, clear video calls from anywhere with 5G coverage, and more. People will feel even less tethered to their desktops than before, and might only stick to them for intensive tasks such as gaming and the benefits of a bigger screen. How companies react to this remains to be seen.

We would like to note here that 5G is a rather broad term, and could mean the implementation of millimeter wave technology that allows for speeds ten times or more than what we are used to with 4G devices, or it could simply be a few slight improvements, that, while nice and certainly good for the mobile market, will not be revolutionizing too much. Therefore, it may still be incremental changes that lead the way into the future.

Conclusion

Whatever you use the most, you have to consider the importance of the balance of desktop and mobile devices. What is used most is what will be optimized for, and while there will always be setups for both, we can see the future in these statistics. Try to take note of the above and use it when making personal buying or general business decisions. If you know what is coming, you will be better able to make the right choice. We will keep an eye on things in the meanwhile, and we hope that this article proved interesting and helpful for you.