Smartphones, clouds and control

This morning’s Observer column about the latest Ofcom survey of the communications market.

The Ofcom document runs to 411 pages, so it is custom-built for empirical masochists. Given that life is short, and you may have other things to do on a Sunday morning, I will just focus on some findings in the report that leapt out at me, and ponder their implications. The survey shows that home internet access in the UK rose by 3% between 2011 and 2012 and now stands at 80%. So eight out of 10 people have access to the network. And the speed of that access is increasing: by the first quarter of 2012, for example, 76% of UK homes had a broadband connection of some description. Equally interesting is the discovery that the largest rise in internet access over the last year – 9% – was among 65 to 74-year-olds. So the idea of “silver surfers” as an endangered minority needs recalibrating.

Next, we find that two-fifths of UK adults are now smartphone users. Take-up has risen from 27% in 2011 to 39%. This is interesting because the mobile networks and the telecoms industry have in the past consistently underestimated the popularity of internet-enabled mobile phones. It’s also one of the reasons why Nokia finds itself in so much trouble.

It’s hard to exaggerate the significance of the smartphone tsunami, especially when we see Ofcom’s discovery that more than four in 10 smartphone users say their phone is more important for accessing the internet than any other device…