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Growth in UK smartphone market levels off

Deloitte’s annual study of UK consumer mobile habits reveals that more than 80% of Brits own or have access to a smartphone, and growth is levelling off

Britain has entered the “peak smartphone” era, with 37 million people – or 81% of the UK population – either owning or having access to a smartphone device, according to business consultancy Deloitte.

In its sixth annual mobile consumer survey, Deloitte reported that smartphones had overtaken laptops in terms of total penetration, making them easily the most popular device currently available.

However, it said, in spite of this, growth in the UK market was slowing. Market penetration rose by just 7% in the 12 months to June 2016, as opposed to 9% last year, 13% to June 2014, and 19% to June 2013.

Furthermore, said Deloitte, out of the minority of adults who still owned a traditional feature phone, only a fifth intended to switch to a smartphone in the coming months.

“It is clear from our research that we are reaching an age of ‘peak smartphone’. Given the market saturation, in the next 12 months, we expect smartphone penetration to rise modestly, perhaps by no more than two or four percentage points,” said Deloitte head of technology, media and telecommunications research, Paul Lee.

“However, smartphones will not suffer the same fate as tablets. The replacement market is likely to remain healthy and, given the sizeable base of existing owners, smartphone sales are likely to remain in the tens of millions for the foreseeable future.”

Deloitte’s findings tallied with those of a report produced by analysts CCS Insight, which found that the overall global market for mobile devices – not just smartphones – has peaked at around two billion units per annum, and shipments were probably going to slip this year by around one percentage point.

“After years of analysts and commentators talking about mobile phone market peaking in the visible horizon, it has now reached that point,” said CCS director of forecasting, Marina Koytcheva.

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The UK market also saw a surge in 4G adoption over the past 12 months, with 54% of owners now using 4G networks, compared with 25% in 2015.

According to Deloitte lead telecoms partner Ed Marsden, this was a result of the smartphone becoming a tool for almost every facet of people’s lives.

“There has never been a greater need for fast, uninterrupted connectivity. The speed of mobile networks means that consumers’ reliance on Wi-Fi will reduce until fixed-line network speeds improve significantly,” said Marsden.

“High 4G adoption is good news for mobile carriers and network operators. Faster connectivity should encourage greater data consumption; the telecommunications industry needs to make it as easy as possible for smartphone owners to access data.”

Security conscious

The study also looked at consumer attitudes to mobile security, and found that a fifth of UK smartphone users were now using their fingerprints for authentication-based transactions, such as unlocking their phones or making payments.

Just over three-quarters of those who owned devices equipped with fingerprint scanners – such as the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S7 – were making use of it, and it was by far the most popular biometric feature used by owners, dwarfing the 2% who were using voice or facial recognition.

Bad habits?

Deloitte’s annual study of the UK mobile sector also lifted the lid on some of the stranger habits of smartphone users.

It found that a third of people admitted to using their devices in the middle of the night, rising to over half of 18 to 24 year olds – despite the light emitted by smartphone screens being popularly acknowledged as a major disruptor of sleeping patterns.

Furthermore, said Deloitte, a tenth of smartphone owners “instinctively” reached for their device on waking, a third within five minutes, and half within fifteen minutes, usually to check messages, personal email and social networking feeds.

Outside the home, Deloitte reported that smartphone usage was increasingly affecting social behaviour, with a third of 18 to 24 year olds saying they used their devices always or very often when meeting friends, shopping or watching television.

A similar number said their smartphone usage had brought them into conflict with a partner, and this figure rose among older age groups.

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