1 of 7
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Troy Wisk uses his phone during a break from work in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Three hours a day may not sound like a lot until you start doing the math for how much that time occupies over the course of a year.

Forty-five and a half days.

That's how long, on average, we collectively spent on our mobile devices in 2018, according to a new report from mobile device data site AppAnnie.com.

The report broke down what we were doing in that month-and-a-half spent on cellphones and other mobile gadgets, and the results are, well, more. More time on mobile devices in which users were doing more shopping, more gaming and more time engaging social media, and spending a lot more via mobile devices.

While the early days of smartphones found users mostly engaging the internet via a mobile web browser, the explosion of mobile apps has helped drive a profound reversal of that behavior. Mobile users now spend about 90 percent of the time they spend on those devices in apps rather than a browsing program.

While U.S. customers lag behind shoppers in many other countries in their adoption of mobile shopping, in 2018 they worked to catch up. Over Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday — which generated $3.7 billion, $6.2 billion and $7.9 billion, respectively, in e-commerce sales — over a third of those transactions originated on a mobile device. The report noted that "mobile's growing share of traffic and sales indicates mobile's increasing role in both the consideration and purchase phase of the shopper's journey."

Those who prefer their journeys to take place in a digital gaming space found plenty of options, both new and old, in 2018. U.S. mobile gamers spent about $14 billion on game apps, a jump of 45 percent over 2016. While Helix Jump and PUBG Mobile were the most popular new games of 2018, by purchase volume, U.S. gamers are still most enthralled with augmented reality game Pokemon GO with Candy Crush Saga holding down the No. 2 spot when measuring monthly active users.

Interestingly, older gamers are outpacing Gen Z youngsters when it comes to what percentage of their mobile time is devoted to shooting, chasing or popping stuff. While 16-24 year olds spent, on average, about 5 hours a month playing their favorite games, those 25 and over logged in around 9 hours of game time. The report noted that, for Generation Z, "mobile is second nature and used across nearly all aspects of life — communication, socializing, shopping, banking, etc."

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
A man looks at his phone as he walks in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Mobile device users spend about half their time on social media and/or communication apps, according to the report, with the next two biggest categories by time spent were video players and editors at 15 percent, and gaming at 10 percent.

Video streaming via mobile apps continues to see explosive growth and hours spent in video apps nearly doubled from 2016 to 2018, nearing 20 billion viewing hours spent by U.S. streamers. For U.S. viewers, and across almost the entire globe, YouTube rules the roost holding down the No. 1 spot in all markets except China. In the U.S., Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and e-sports specialists Twitch occupied the next four slots.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Pedestrians look at their phones as they walk in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

While the entirety of the data set assembled in the report reflects a high level of exuberance for all things mobile and represents an ever bigger slice of our collective waking hours, one local researcher has been exploring just how rational it is.

Tom Meservy, associate professor at BYU's Department of Information Systems, said while the amount of time we spend on our devices can come as a shock to some, he believes its how we're spending that time that really determines if the experience is positive, or otherwise.

"My perspective as a technologist is I see so many great benefits to technology," Meservy said. "Right off the bat, some people will say that (three hours a day) is an alarming amount of time.

"For me the time spent isn't a big deal one way or another. It's what are you doing with that time that raises concerns."

Meservy said one factor that needs to be taken into account when, say, mobile users are evaluating their own time spent on their devices is how that time may be a distraction from better or more productive activities.

"From a researcher's standpoint, when I think of increased use I wonder how easily we're being distracted from other things we should be doing," Meservy said. "That is definitely one of the cons. Our social interactions are changing and, for good or worse, increased use of mobile decreases our social interactions."

6 comments on this story

Meservy acknowledged a whole suite of addiction issues related to technology that include addiction to internet content, technology itself and even to mobile devices like smartphones. He said one strategy to navigate the pitfalls that come with high technology is to work toward what he calls "digital maturity."

"Digital maturity … is about knowing who and where and how to use the technology," Meservy said. "It's not the hours on the device, it's what you're doing and what it is substituting for."