Smartphone by Default



By highlighting the direct and indirect detriment caused by smartphone-only internet access, we helped Ofcom understand exactly what this issue is about – and where it sits in relation to the key policy areas of media literacy and digital inclusion.


As part of its duties to promote media literacy and ensure digital inclusion, Ofcom needed to know more about the small but significant proportion of people (3%) who only access the internet through smartphones.

Our research revealed a range of drivers for the phenomenon – including those for whom reliance on their smartphone was a choice, motivated by the flexibility and freedom of the medium.

For those whose dependency on their smartphone was necessitated by limited access to other platforms, however, the picture was quite different. Challenges like form-filling, creating and editing documents, missing deadlines, saving and sharing information, or the pressure to complete tasks too quickly due to worry about data usage, were all identified as major issues – their impact compounded by the fact that those in this situation also tended to have the greatest need to access crucial services online (e.g. jobs or housing).

There were also hidden consequences. The difficulty of comparing information across different websites made it harder for users to get the best deal on different products and services. Perhaps most alarming of all was the discovery that longer-term employability skills – e.g. typing and file management – were being negatively affected by the trend.

Our conclusions and recommendations have enabled Ofcom to define its position on the issue – directly informing its ongoing conversations on consumer vulnerability with key industry stakeholders.