Has COVID-19 changed how we use smartphones for good?

Lockdown has led to more consumers using their mobiles for fitness tracking, video calls and streaming. What other trends have we seen in the US, EU and China?
24 November 2020
jennifer chan

Global Strategic Insight Director

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How have we been using our smartphones during coronavirus? Latest insights suggest that lockdown has introduced more consumers to their smartphones for fitness tracking, and this trend is likely to remain. In the EU5, more consumers were using their smartphones for frequent video and Wi-Fi calling, especially during early lockdown. And, with more video streaming service providers launching this year, there has been a noticeable uptake in use of smartphones for video streaming across the EU5 and Urban China.

The latest data splits smartphone usage habits into three categories:

  • Back to ‘Normal’: Activities where there was a rapid change in behavior during early lockdown, but which are quickly returning to ‘normal’
  • In Limbo: Activities where behavior shifted, but where we are seeing a gradual change
  • New ‘Normal’: Activities where usage changed during lockdown, and where we are seeing no signs of usage reverting to ‘normal’

In the EU5 and Urban China, the use of Maps/GPS on smartphones was down at the beginning of lockdown (an average of 7%) but quickly returned to normal by Q3 2020. In the USA, mobile shopping and virtual assistant usage have seen a decrease in use of 10% and 16% respectively during lockdown, while instant messaging was up 3% during this period.

However, Q3 2020 has seen these habits revert back to pre-COVID levels. The decline in these smartphone activities in the USA during lockdown is likely due to preferred tablet and laptop use for online shopping or video streaming.

Video calls have seen rapid growth during lockdown across Italy (+29%), Great Britain (+36%), Germany (+41%), Spain (+70%) and France (+83%). While there has been a decline in Q3 2020, this activity has remained higher than pre-COVID levels across the EU5.The USA, EU5 and Urban China have registered a shift in mobile wallet/contactless payments, registering growth in Q3 2020.

One activity where behavior has fundamentally changed is the use of fitness tracking apps on smartphones. Across the EU5, usage of such apps has registered an average of 5% growth during lockdown, a trend that has continued even during Q3 and shows no signs of returning to pre-COVID levels. Conversely, in the US fitness tracking showed a 7% decrease during lockdown and still remains lower than pre-COVID levels. Other activities that changed significantly as a result of the pandemic are:

  • Taking pictures – up 5% in lockdown and growing for EU5; down 7% in lockdown with no change for China
  • Wi-Fi calling – up 17% during early the onset of COVID-19 and remaining high for EU5
  • Streaming video service usage – up 4% since lockdown for China; up 14% during the early onset of COVID-19 and remaining high for EU5

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