How the coronavirus pandemic is changing our smartphone use and habits

How the coronavirus pandemic is changing our smartphone use and habits
The smartphone has found its way to every pocket and slowly transformed itself into an extension of our very beings. Think of how difficult everyday activities will be without your smartphone. Navigate unknown streets? Order pizza? Translate a foreign phrase? Search for a fact on Google? It will take hours instead of minutes and minutes instead of seconds.

The point is smartphones are habit-creating devices. Like it or not, they affect the way we behave in the long run. And now, in a state of a worldwide lockdown, it's the perfect time to reflect on smartphone habits and how exactly they're changing while you remain homebound.

You dirty, dirty smartphone

Demand for hand sanitizers spiked 1,400% from December to January in the US, according to market researchers at Adobe Analytics, meaning everybody is cleaning their hands much more often. And while getting in touch with your kindergarten habits is a good thing, many people have started disinfecting their phones too.

Keyword search data from Google shows an enormous spike in "how to clean my phone" and "how to disinfect phone" searches across the US. I can't remember for the life of me the last time I used an alcohol-based solution on my phone (hint: never). So, yeah. People are cleaning their smartphones more often. Is it a game-changer for the pandemic? Probably not. And If you're the only one touching the device, washing your hands regularly or maybe disinfecting your phone once will do the trick. It doesn't hurt to keep things clean, though. Whether or not this newly formed habit (for some people) will survive post-coronavirus days, we'll have to wait and see.

Socializing through the screen

When you're grounded home, it's a bit hard to socialize and mingle. It's actually close to impossible if we don't count the recent tradition of group applauding medical workers from windows and balconies (kudos to the medics, nothing wrong with that). If you've already guessed that social networks are the answer and Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the likes saw a spike in activity during the lockdown, you've guessed that right. 

Interestingly, TikTok benefited the most with a 47% increase in interest in March, according to Google Trends. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter saw around a 15% increase in interest, while LinkedIn was the big loser with a 23% drop for the same period. This web search activity transformed into new users and more time spent on most of the social networks. Another set of data from Statista shows that 32% of the people in the US spend more time on social media.

And before you're bored to death by all these numbers, let me recap. People are using all the available means to stay in touch and to socialize. You can't hang out with friends, but you can group meet in Hangouts or Skype. Your Instagram might be losing some of its shine because you can't go anywhere, but you can share photos and videos with friends and discuss them together with the new Co-watching activity. 

Calling me, calling you

Today's phones are anything but just calling devices. They are personal communicators, weather stations, news agencies, music players, cinema screens, and so many more. Human beings are social animals. We need to communicate and to feel part of the tribe. What is interesting, however, is the fact that people need to hear others' voices. It's not all chats and Facebook posts.

Voice call on the Verizon network in March saw a 25 percent increase week over week and a 15 percent increase in call duration. Meanwhile, Facebook group calls spiked in Italy with more than 1000 percent increase during the pandemic. Other countries also saw a more than 50% increase. Skype's average daily users increased to 40 million, a rise of 70% month over month, and Skype to Skype calling minutes increased by 220%. 

 It turns out that the current lockdown situation breathed new life into voice (and video) calls. When you can't hang out with your friends, but you need to hear a human voice, smartphones can provide this "retro" feature as well. The necessity to work from home also contributes to that, of course. When the coronavirus shades lift, however, people will most likely revert to their previous behavior of Instagramming, Facebooking, and rarely calling.

The world is a game

Well, the world is more of a virus lately, but apparently, it's also a game. People are gaming a lot more during lockdowns. Аccording to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, there's a 39% increase in mobile game downloads globally in February compared to last year. Even the World Health Organization joined the #PlayApartTogether gaming campaign in March and advised people to stay at home and play games. 

It's not too surprising, however. Mobile gaming has been on the rise in the past few years and social distancing only emphasizes this. It also may have something to do with the increase of media device usage in the US during the coronavirus situation as well. Game consoles saw a modest 13% increase in March as opposed to the 40% increase in mobile phone use for the same period. And after all, it’s down to the simple fact that almost all of us have a smartphone nowadays, which isn’t the case with consoles. If anything, mobile gaming is aiming to replace consoles for good with services like Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud, and Apple Arcade.

Plug in, baby

Our lifestyle dictates how often and when do we charge our phones. According to a 4-week study of more than 4000 people to assess their smartphone charging habits, people tend to charge their phones mostly between 6 and 8 pm. It makes sense as most people get back from work around that time.

When you spend your days at home, however, this routine is no longer in effect. I couldn't find any studies on how people are charging now. Still, judging by my own experience and applying some common logic, I have to assume that people are either hooked to the charger permanently or charging much more often.

It's another habit that will change for sure when the pandemic is over. Mobile phones are supposed to be just that - mobile, and when you're on the move again (let's hope it will be sooner rather than later), they will move with you as well.


No surprises here! When people are confined to their homes, every gadget comes to the rescue. The concerns that the excessive use of mobile phones is affecting people in a negative way now have an opposition. Sure, we're in a time of crisis and emergency, but if smartphones can help people connect and in many ways stay sane, that's a positive thing, right?

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