The centrality of smartphones
Overall we find that more people are accessing news through a greater number of devices than ever before. The computer remains the most important device for online news, but for many this is now supplemented by heavy usage of smartphones and tablets.
Across all our countries 69% of our sample use a smartphone for any purpose (up from 58% last year) and two-thirds of these (66%) say they used the device for news at least once in the past week.
Australia has the highest weekly news usage of smartphones at 59% of our online sample, along with Denmark (57%) and Ireland (52%). The US (+13), the UK (+9), and Japan (+7) have seen the biggest increases in the last twelve months. Tablet growth has slowed in some countries like the US (+2) but the UK has bucked the trend with a significant increase (+8).
Digital devices for accessing the news – all countries
Greater penetration of smartphones and tablets has significantly increased the amount of cross-device consumption. Across our entire sample almost half (45%) now use more than two digital devices to access the news, up from a third (33%) in 2013. The number using more than three devices has grown from 9% to 15% in the same time period.
But the move to multiplatform is happening at different rates. To illustrate the different pace of adoption, we set out the device overlaps for Japan and Australia, two countries at different ends of the spectrum. Almost half of our Japanese sample (49%) still ONLY use the computer to access news each week compared with just a quarter of Australians (24%). We see significant overlaps between device use in Australia with almost a fifth (18%) using the computer, smartphone, and tablet in the last week – three times the percentage in Japan (5%).
Importance of smartphones grows
In many countries these trends mean that publishers now report that the majority of traffic comes from new mobile devices. In the UK, of those who use a device to access digital news, those who say the smartphone is now their MAIN device has risen from 15% to 27% since 2013. That rises to almost half (47%) of those aged 25–34.
In Australia and Ireland almost a third (32%) say the smartphone is most important device they use to access the news. The tablet is most valued in the UK (18%) and Denmark (20%) and least valued in Japan (5%).
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Main device for news by country
Base: All who used a device to access news in the last week UK = 1795, US = 1912, France = 1635, Germany = 1554, Denmark = 1802, Finland = 1376, Italy = 1707, Spain = 1819, Japan = 1839, Brazil = 1900, Australia = 1808, Ireland = 1357.
Demographic changes over time
Across our global sample we can see the same trends, with the younger half of the population more dependent on smartphones for news. In stark contrast, the tablet’s greater cost and the larger screen size makes this device more popular with older age groups. Under 35s have seen no growth in tablet use for news over the past year (see chart) and in some countries (Denmark) tablet news usage amongst the young is falling.
Age profile for smartphones – all countries
Age profile for tablets – all countries
As the overall ownership figures rise, both tablets and smartphones are reaching a broader cross-section of news users; parts of the population that the computer has never reached. Almost half of Daily Briefers (46%) now use a smartphone for news and 39% of Casual Users.
Smartphone users consume fewer news sources
The move to smartphone may be making us less adventurous with our choices. We find that people use fewer sources of news each week when using a smartphone than when accessing news via a tablet or a computer. We asked our respondents to select the sources they used on each device from a given list of top news sources in each country. On a smartphone, across all our countries 47% said they only used one source of news, compared with 39% on a computer – only 9% accessed five or more sources compared with 14% on a computer.
Breakdown of number of sources used per device – all countries
It may be that on a smartphone, where people are often short of time and more task focused, they are happier to stick to one or two brands they trust. On a tablet or computer there may be more time to browse, more time for serendipity.
News via apps or mobile browser?
In the last few years most news publishers have created specific apps for mobile platforms – designed to create a slicker, faster experience that links to additional features of mobile operating systems. At the same time they have also spent time and engineering resource in optimising their mobile browsing experience for the small screen.
Against that background, it is interesting to note that in most countries the mobile browser remains the main access point to news. Only in the UK – and only on smartphones – do more people say they use apps than a mobile browser.
Use of apps vs mobile browser by country – smartphone
Use of apps vs mobile browser by country – tablet
In four countries (UK, US, Germany, and Australia) we asked specifically about the number of news apps they currently have downloaded to their device. The average number is just 1.52 for a smartphone and 1.59 for a tablet.
Number of apps on smartphone and tablet (UK, US, Germany, and Australia)
So in these four countries three-quarters (70% for smartphone and 66% for tablet) have at least one news app on their device but only a third of those who access news on a device (34% for smartphone users and 36% for tablet) use them each week. This is an illustration of how difficult it can be to keep your brand front of mind on a mobile device. There is higher than average use of news apps in Finland, Denmark, and the UK – countries where strong brands have made an early and decisive move into mobile.
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Percentage of smartphone and tablet owners using any news apps in a given week
Base: All who used a smartphone/tablet in the last week UK = 1436/1102, US = 1439/899, France = 1142/655, Germany = 1285/716, Denmark = 1590/1134, Finland = 1057/620, Italy = 1405/827, Spain = 1658/906, Japan = 899/423, Brazil = 1445/690, Australia = 1735/1186, Ireland = 1122/620.
Uniquely in the countries we looked at, the BBC News app has been downloaded by over half of those who use apps in the UK. Elsewhere the picture is more fragmented.
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News Lovers are much more likely to use apps than Casual Users. They have also downloaded twice as many news apps to their device (2 smartphone apps compared with 1.06 for casual users). It is not surprising that people who are more interested in news are prepared to invest in a better experience with a brand they like. Casual Users are not as prepared to put the effort in; they tend to come across the news in other ways.
Apple users also tend to download more apps. They have an average of 1.7 apps on their iPhones compared with 1.4 for users of other phones.
Percentage of Apple users vs others accessing apps/mobile browser – selected countries – smartphone
Percentage of Apple users vs others accessing apps/mobile browser – selected countries – tablet
In terms of mobile devices, we find that there are radically different patterns of usage by country. In general, richer Northern Europeans tend to favour Apple devices. The Spanish and Brazilians use predominantly other systems such as Android and Blackberry. Tablets sees a more even split with Apple users driving almost half of all news usage.
Mobile operating systems used for news by country – smartphone
Mobile operating systems used for news by country – tablet
Multi-platform usage extends options
The growth of smartphones and tablets has not generally come at the expense of other media, but is instead increasing the range of options. Heavy tablet users are just as likely – or more likely – to consume TV news (77%), listen to radio (42%), or read a printed newspaper (36%) in a given week when compared with the average user.
Heavy smartphone users are a little less likely to read a newspaper or watch TV news in some countries – but this is likely to as much to do with the younger age profile of smartphone users as the device itself.
Percentage of heavy tablet and smartphone users accessing traditional media – all countries
Percentage of heavy tablet and smartphone users accessing traditional media – USA
Smart and connected TVs
Over the past few years the number of TVs that have direct or indirect access to the internet has grown rapidly. We define smart TVs as having the capability to connect directly to the internet; they often come preloaded with apps for video on demand but also some news apps. Connected TVs normally connect to internet services via a set-top box or other connector such as an Apple TV. Increasingly, these services too offer video- or text-led news services including travel and weather.
Spain, France, and Germany lead the way for smart and connected TVs but in most countries use for news remains relatively modest – compared with tablets and smartphones. Even so, broadcasters and news providers are increasingly developing new services such as apps for this platform and there has been significant growth in a number of countries.