By a show of hands, how many of you still use mobile phones primarily for voice calls?
Hmm. About half of you have hands raised, I see.
That’s what GSMA found, too. The global trade group’s data and analysis unit, GSMA Intelligence, has finished a report based on 56,000 mobile use surveys across more than 50 global markets that indicated fully half of all mobile phone users worldwide still use their devices mainly for voice calls and text messages.
GSMA says this is the first such consumer survey ever conducted and is the basis for a new measuring stick of engagement it’s calling the Global Mobile Engagement Index, or GMEI, which it will update periodically. The GSMA itself represents 800 operators at 300 companies across the mobile ecosystem and is known outside of this group for high-profile trade events like the Mobile World Congress.
The report contradicts a growing perception that mobile phones are primarily handheld computers rarely used for their original intention: making phone calls. While that transformation may yet happen in our lifetimes, the reality is less manifest.
“Consumer behaviors are continuing to change as mobile devices get smarter, services grow richer, and societies become more connected,” said Hyunmi Yang, GSMA chief strategy officer, in a news release.
The GMEI divides mobile user engagement into four categories: Aficionados (those who are the most engaged), Pragmatists, Networkers, and Talkers (those who are the least engaged and use their mobile phones only to make voice calls and send SMS texts). The latter group accounted for 47 percent of mobile phone owners in 2016, the report says.
Of course, that percentage will change as mobile innovation, affordability, and availability increase, Yang said. The report estimates that Talkers will constitute less than 30 percent of the mobile phone market within a decade.
“In an era of mobile being near ubiquitous around the world and at the center of people’s lifestyles, there is a growing need to measure mobile user engagement levels to identify future industry growth opportunities,” Yang said.
Among the report’s other findings:
- Qatar, South Korea, and the United States were the three highest-scoring markets in terms of mobile engagement.
- Traditional SMS remains in more frequent use than IP messaging in several mature markets, including France and the United States.
- Millennials are not necessarily more engaged with their mobile phones than older generations. In markets such as South Korea, more than a quarter of smartphone users are baby boomers (ages 51-69).
- In some markets, such as Myanmar, smartphone ownership is relatively high, but user engagement is low due to digital illiteracy and a lack of locally relevant content.
- Several African countries, Kenya and Tanzania among them, have high mobile user engagement because around four in every five adult mobile phone owners use their phones for banking transactions.
- More than 70 percent of mobile phone users research information about products and services on their devices, but only one in two use it to order and make purchases.
- A profound gender gap exists in some markets. In India, for example, female mobile phone owners are 43 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than males.