Canadian smartphone use on the rise, but apps in decline: report

Everyone has a smartphone. I mean, if my mother has a smartphone then everyone must have a smartphone. Or so I thought. Year-over-year smartphone penetration has increased 24 per cent! Last month Catalyst Canada, the company I work with, published a Canadian mobile study.

“Twenty-four per cent year-over-year growth is not surprising, but what it means to us is that if you are a brand and you are trying to reach Canadians, mobile is not optional anymore,” said Jeff Lancaster, CEO of Catalyst Canada.

The purpose was to conduct primary research and uncover insights into the habits of Canadian smartphone users. The growth in smartphone usage was just one of the more interesting things we found.

In 2014, Canadian smartphone penetration was 55 per cent. In 2015, we found that that number increased to 68 per cent. In fact, we estimate that approximately 3 million Canadians purchased their first smartphone in the last half of 2014. While we have seen lineups in malls across the country for the latest iPhone, most Canadians have purchased Android smartphones. And unfortunately, this has come at the expense of a former Canadian tech darling: BlackBerry.

After interviewing 1,100 Canadians from coast-to-coast here’s what else we found out:

While smartphone use continues to be an important medium for daily activities we have seen a major shift in when, where, and how Canadians use their smartphones. We tend to equate smartphone users as commuters. We see people on their way to work or shopping using smartphones. However, in relation to last year, Canadians, more than ever, are using their smartphone at home. It has become their primary screen: from consuming news, entertainment, doing banking, messaging friends, checking the weather and staying active on social media.

Compared to 2014, smartphone usage has increased in every activity, except for booking flights.

“Many more people are using their devices when they are at home,” said Lancaster. “Consumers are becoming much more comfortable with their smartphone being their primary device.”

smartphone at home use | Catalyst Canada

Remember that sight of people on their smartphones everywhere you went? Well, according to the study, that number is starting to decline. Only four categories saw an increase in “on the go” usage compared to last year: researching a new vehicle, checking stock quotes, checking the latest sports scores and buying movie tickets.

One thing has not changed for Canadians when it comes to our relationship with our smartphones: We’re still as frustrated as ever. More than half of us are frustrated with three main things. Battery life is still a problem; even with the new iPhones, the Blackberry Passport, and the latest Samsung Galaxy and Note smartphones, screen size is still too small; and data limits are still too constrained in the eyes of Canadians.

canadian frustration with smartphones | Catalyst Canada

In fact, smartphone screen sizes are so small that Canadians are now using tablets (remember them?) as their preferred device when it comes to shopping, watching videos and reading.

So as more Canadians use smartphones, where does that leave app usage? One would expect an across the board increase. One would be wrong. Firstly, we’re becoming more selective. This year has seen Canadians use fewer apps when compared to last year (a 26 per cent decline). Not only have app downloads decreased by 53 per cent since 2014 but app uninstalls have increased by 29 per cent since last year. In fact all types of app usage has decreased. The only exception being paying bills, checking bank accounts and stock quotes, and reading and writing emails.

app usage among canadians | Catalyst Canada

“People are solidifying into a fewer number of core apps that are being used more often,” says Lancaster. “What we’re seeing is that people are being more selective about the real estate on their smartphone’s screen, in terms of battery usage, space that it might take up on their phone and how useful the app is specifically.”

Canadians, when asked, identified four main reasons why they either remove apps from their smartphones or don’t even bother downloading them: the tax battery life, no foreseen future use, bad performance, and limited space on the device.

We’re seeing lots of changes this year and there’s one group of Canadians responsible for the majority of this change: millennials. According to the table below, millennials are the reason for the high growth in “at home” usage of smartphones:

millennial use of smartphones at home | Catalyst Canada

And remember the decline in app usage? Well, only one group showed an increase in app usage: millennials.

What does all of this this mean for brands and marketers? According to Lancaster, “one of the key takeaways is the extreme competitiveness of the app space with Canadians increasingly limiting their app usage to just a handful of core apps. While millennials saw their overall share of the smartphone user market fall, they remain the heaviest users both of apps and across the mobile web.”

Not only must apps be built for the needs of millennials, but brands must also look to the mobile web for the rest of the Canadian market.

In fact, Google recently announced websites that are optimized for mobile will be given preference in organic search results. If the growing use of mobile web doesn’t force Canadian brands to focus more on mobile, then the algorithm change we can expect to see before the end of the month will.

Lancaster sums up the report nicely: “Mobile technology has completely permeated the lives of Canadians. Far from being an occasional touchpoint for Internet access and communication on the go, smartphones have become a key part of the fabric of day-to-day life.”

Karim Kanji
Karim Kanji
Karim Kanji is the Canadian Director of Social Media Strategy at iNvolved Media. iNvolved Media was purchased by Active International in 2015. Clients include popular food brands, technology brands and other CPG companies. Prior to joining iNvolved Media, Karim led the paid social media strategy for some of Canada's most popular CPG and confectionery brands for Catalyst/GroupM. Karim started in the social media space when he co-founded and was the President of THIRDOCEAN where he led the creation of digital content for companies including Scotiabank, Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Microsoft, Wild Water Kingdom, Palomino Systems Inc. and Techvibes. Karim has also been recognized as a pioneer in podcasting having interviewed people such as such as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, former MLSE boss Richard Peddie, TVO's Steve Paikin, Canadian serial angel investor Dr. Boris Wertz, HootSuite founder Ryan Holmes, Mathew Ingram, Mitch Joel from Mirium and many, many others. As a demonstration of thought leadership, Karim led the development and execution of reports discussing how technology and digital media have impacted industries such as retail, education, health, gaming, sports and banking.

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