Smartphones have become an essential part of our lives, used for everything from shopping to ordering prescriptions. But are we too dependent on them? According to app monitoring firm App Annie, the average user spends 4.8 hours a day looking at their phone, more than a third of their waking hours.

App Annie’s report shows that apps were downloaded 230 billion times in 2021, while $170bn (£125bn) was spent. TikTok was the most downloaded app worldwide, with users spending 90% more time there compared to 2020. The 78,9% of the population in the UK used smartphones by 2021, it roses up to 53,5 million people.

So is this too much? Does staring at a screen for 5 hours a day have health implications? One study of adolescents and young adults found that excessive smartphone use is associated with difficulties in cognitive-emotion regulation, impulsivity, impaired cognitive function, addiction to social networking, shyness, and low self-esteem. Medical problems include sleep problems, reduced physical fitness, unhealthy eating habits, pain and migraines, reduced cognitive control, and changes in the brain’s grey matter volume. Many other studies have also found links between smartphone usage and poor mental health in the young.

What are we doing on our phones?

1. Business purposes

In the UK, the highest usage is for email and other business purposes at 85% of mobile phone users. Mobile phones are sophisticated enough now to act as mobile computers when people are away from their desks. This has really opened up the world of work, enabling people to work remotely from anywhere.

2. Searching for goods and services

81% of users use their phones to access the internet to search for goods and services. Smartphones have made it quick and easy to shop online, search for tradespeople, get directions and even find love.

3. Internet banking

76% of people use their phones for internet banking. Paying for goods and services and transferring money has become a lot more straightforward with internet banking using smartphones. You can pay a bill at the click of a button rather than having to send off checks.

4. Messaging apps

Facebook messenger is the 5th most used app in the world. In the UK according to a survey during the third quarter of 2020, WhatsApp was the most popular mobile app among 26 to 35-year-olds. In addition, as of October 2021, WhatsApp was the most popular app on Apple App Store in the UK, with approximately 791 thousand downloads.

5. Social Media

The activity that people spend the most time on their phones is social media. 70% of users in the UK have at least one social media app on their smartphone, with Facebook and Youtube being the most popular.

Facebook is the most popular social media network with 2.91bn users worldwide or 36.8% of the world’s population. Facebook is increasingly used by businesses to market themselves to consumers, nearly every business in the UK now has a Facebook page. Facebook ads can reach up to 36.7% of the adult population, the highest percentage of all social media platforms (Twitter is the lowest, at 6.5%).

TikTok is increasingly popular and was the most downloaded app globally in 2021. It has overtaken Youtube in average time spent using it. TikTok is particularly popular amongst generation Z.

6. Reading news and magazines

Smartphones are used by 70% to read the news or online magazines. However, national newspapers declined and fell below 1 million copies, this happened despite the existence of leading brands like The Daily Mail. This is largely attributed to people reading the news on their smartphones or computers.

7. Listening to music

62% of people use their smartphone to download and listen to music, smartphones make great portable music devices. Music streaming app Spotify was the 10th most downloaded app in 2021 with 203 million downloads.

8. Searching for health advice

60% of smartphone users search for health advice on their devices. In fact, the NHS app was the most popular app downloaded in 2021, due to its ability to prove Covid vaccination status. 22 million people downloaded it in 2021. Getting an appointment and ordering prescriptions is something also very popular to do so on smartphones.

9. Playing games

41% of people play games on their smartphones. The UK has currently got around 20 million mobile gamers, an increase of 63% during the lockdown, out of which 6.2 million play games on their mobile phones daily. Candy Crush and Clash of Clans are the most popular games in the UK for smartphones.

10. Selling goods and services

21% of smartphone users use their phones to sell items over the internet through websites such as eBay and craigslist.

How businesses take advantage of this

Our high levels of smartphone usage provide a real opportunity for businesses to target individuals. Digital advertising spending in the UK soared by 49% to £10.5 billion in the first half of 2021.

The explanation for this growth was the third lockdown, companies were better prepared for it, and with an e-Commerce market stronger than ever the online customers were an easy target to reach.

Facebook and Google were the most used platforms for advertising purposes, after many surveys were taken place, most of the respondents were found to use Google as well as Facebook. A huge 44% of marketers identified Google as their top-performing platform, saying it delivers a higher return on ad spend than any other platform. Facebook was the second one with 25% of positive responses by marketers.

B2b companies like exhibition stand contractor Quadrant2Design have had success advertising on LinkedIn which is one of the most popular social media apps in the UK and primarily used by professionals. MD Alan Jenkins said ‘While we do have pages on Facebook and Instagram, it’s LinkedIn where we focus our advertising spend as that is where our customers are. It suits our market better than other platforms’.

So should we reduce the time spent online?

Studies have shown excess mobile phone usage causes insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Excessive social media usage is mostly to blame for this so those affected should reduce time spent on social media networks. Constantly comparing your life to the seemingly ‘perfect’ lives depicted on Instagram and Facebook will lead to low mood and potential mental health problems.

However, as long as you can keep social media in perspective and limit time spent on it, smartphones are incredibly useful gadgets that most of us could not live without. They have made all sorts of activities listed above a lot quicker and more convenient which fits in with our busy lives today.