It's no secret that smartphones and other screens can be addictive, but a recent survey of US and UK smartphone owners sheds some light on the extent of this dependency.
Conducted by the Apigee Institute and the Sandford University Mobile Innovation Group, the study places a particular emphasis on the importance of the device in users' social lives.
In order to explore the effects of smartphones on those who use them the most, researchers honed in on "top app users," a category defined in the study as the top 25% of smartphone owners based on their frequency of use of apps in 12 different categories. The signs of dependency were especially strong within this group of heavy users.
There's no denying that Facebook and Twitter have become important vectors of 21st-century social life, but some of the survey findings are nonetheless surprising.
21% of top app users said they would be unable to maintain a relationship with a significant other without the apps on their phone, while 19% said they would not be able to make new friends.
The smartphone has become a familiar companion for top app users, 55% of whom say they check at least one app hourly or more, even if it gets in the way of face-to-face social interactions. A majority of them even admit to engaging with their phones "nearly all the time," including when they are having dinner with others.
Far from wanting to curb their screen time, 90% of the users in this category say they intend to download just as many apps next year as they did over the past 12 months, while 45% expect to download even more.
The authors of the study suggest that top app users — described as "a sharp tip to the mobile use spear" — exhibit behaviours that are likely to extend to all smartphone owners over time.
They note that 30% of all users surveyed said they plan to increase their smartphone usage in 2015, while 32% said they plan to download a higher number of apps than in the previous year.
For now, it is clear that smartphones have already modified a number of their owners' social behaviours: 92% of people surveyed say the device has changed the way they connect with their friends, while 49% said it has changed the way they date.
But other aspects of everyday life are also affected: 58% of respondents say smartphone apps have led them to manage their health differently, while 84% say the device has changed the way they shop.
On a related note, the study found that the majority of smartphone users expect many of the businesses and organizations they interact with to offer "key products and services" through apps over the next two years. Smartphone owners are particularly likely to expect this from banks (92%), restaurants (91%), grocery stores (90%), educational institutions (86%) and even doctors (75%).
The study is based on a survey of 1,000 US and UK smartphone owners carried out between Sept 30 and Oct 7, 2014. — AFP/Relaxnews