The internet has changed our lives forever, and this will continue well into the future, mainly because how we use the internet is constantly evolving. We are relying less and less on traditional desktop computers and turning more and more to our mobile devices to access the web.
Initially held back by a bad browsing experience, mobile internet has become the go-to source of web connectivity for most of the world. Add in the popularity and convenience of mobile applications, and it’s easy to see why this version of the web is so widely used.
It’s also likely that we’re still at the beginning of this trend. Mobile phone ownership is still rising worldwide, and 5G networks are rapidly expanding, making mobile internet speeds that much faster, likely increasing our dependence on our phones and other mobile devices for connecting to the web.
To give you an idea of how this trend has developed and where we might be headed in the future, we’ve compiled all the stats we could find comparing mobile and desktop internet usage in 2020. Read on to learn what we found.
Combined Web Traffic On Mobile vs. Desktop Devices
Before we dive into more specific aspects of this analysis, here is a snapshot of how much of the world’s internet traffic comes from mobile sources:
As you can see, mobile traffic has skyrocketed over the past seven years.
It more than doubled between 2013-2015, and since 2013, mobile’s share of internet traffic has jumped a whopping 225 percent. The majority – albeit a small one – of the world’s internet traffic comes from mobile phones, representing a significant change. As mentioned, this is mainly due to the improvements we’ve seen in phones over the years and in networks and accessibility.
To give you some context, consider that:
- The first iPhone with internet capabilities came out in 2009
- The first version of Android came out in 2009
- In 2010, Facebook had just 500 million users (as compared to more than 2 billion today)
- In 2011, there were 2.267 billion internet users as compared to more than 4.4 billion today
Mobile’s Share of Traffic In Select Countries
The data we’ve just presented takes a look at mobile’s share of traffic around the world. However, the world is a big place, so we wanted to dig deeper and see how things looked in specific countries. Here’s what we found using data from Statistsa:
In thirteen of the countries, mobile’s share of traffic was higher than the worldwide average, and mobile usage represented more than 65 percent of total traffic in six countries – Nigeria, India, Turkey, Ghana, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia.
With the exception of a few countries, the nations where mobile’s share of traffic is less than that of the worldwide average tend to be the wealthier, “more developed” nations of the world. In contrast, those with a higher percentage of mobile traffic are countries we would consider “emerging” or “developing.”
Understanding this Trend</h2
There are probably many reasons why this is the case, but there are two important ones to discuss: technological leapfrogging and path dependency.
The first concept refers to the phenomenon that occurs when less developed areas of the world get access to a new technology that allows them to leapfrog an older one. This is happening in many places with the smartphone; if there weren’t traditional phone services already in place, then why build the costly infrastructure they require when you can just put up cell towers and get people connected that way? This could help explain why countries such as Nigeria and India, which are both large, less wealthy, and growing rapidly, rely so much on mobile devices. Why set up the infrastructure needed for access to desktop internet when it’s cheaper and more effective to connect people via broadband networks and their phones?
At first glance, this trend might seem fine. After all, if people are getting connected to the internet, does it matter how it’s happening? In a sense, no. Yet we all know that there are some things we use the internet for that require a desktop device – mainly work. As a result, while helpful in getting people connected, this technological leapfrogging stands to exacerbate the global digital divide and make it harder for underserved populations to get access to all that the internet has to offer.
The second concept, path dependency, can explain why the world’s wealthier nations still rely so much on desktop internet. Essentially, since these nations, which include most of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, etc., got the internet first, many users first learned how to use the internet when phones weren’t available. Yes, these populations have adapted and use mobile phones more than ever. However, there is likely still a significant chunk of the population with the desktop as their go-to, which might shed some light on why these nations still rely heavily on desktop internet.
Search Traffic on Mobile vs. Desktop Devices
One of the primary things we use the internet for is looking up information on search engines. To give you an idea of how much we do this, consider that Google processes more than 2 trillion searches per year, which breaks down to five billion per day, 228 per hour, three million per second, and 63 million per second.
These are some pretty incredible numbers that show just how powerful the internet is to us as a source of information. Here are some stats about how we search for this information.
These numbers resemble those of the overall traffic, though it seems as though mobile has always had a slightly more significant edge in this area than in the overall picture.
This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Most of our Google searches come when we’re out with friends trying to pick a place to eat, figure out what time to catch the movie, navigate, settle arguments, etc. Rarely do we say, “let me look that up,” and then walk over to our computers to search. Our phones are usually in our pockets, so why bother using anything else?
Once again, though, things seem to be leveling off. It’s almost as though the improvements in technology and access that we’ve seen over the past few years have allowed for this growth. Yet as they slow down, so too has the increase in traffic coming from mobile devices. Only time will tell what new advances will do to this trend moving forward.
Average Time Spent Consuming Media on Mobile vs. Desktop Devices
Another way to look at this trend is to see how much time we spend on each device. We now know that mobile devices are the preferred method of using the internet for most people, but by looking at how much time we spend on these devices, we can get an idea as to whether or not this is true.
This is because traffic is determined by how many visitors there are to a website or how many searches are conducted. Therefore, it’s possible to have a situation where we are using our mobile devices more frequently but using our desktop devices for longer, blurring the current picture with mobile devices as the preferred way of accessing the web.
When we took a look at these stats, here’s what we found:
Clearly, mobile phones genuinely are winning. While we spent roughly the same amount of time on each device back in 2013 – around 136 minutes – the amount of time we spend consuming media on desktop devices has dropped down to just 128 minutes in 2019. In contrast, the amount of time spent consuming media on mobile phones has jumped up to 203 minutes. This is a 59 percent increase in time compared to a 6 percent decrease in the amount of time spent using a desktop.
Again, if we apply these numbers to our own lives, this makes a lot of sense. Over the past ten years, lots of popular services, such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc., have released apps that we now use almost exclusively to consume media.
Also, social media has grown tremendously over the years – back in 2013; nobody had ever even heard of TikTok. Yet here we are, using our mobile phones more frequently and for more time than ever before.
We haven’t seen any evidence of things leveling off in this area, although growth has been slow. With the expected improvements in wireless technology just around the corner, we can probably expect this trend to continue.
What’s interesting about these numbers is the difference between the two. In 2013, average media consumption was split evenly between mobile and desktop. Just one year later, mobile traffic had a 36 percent edge, and this number has continued to grow up until the present day.
eCommerce Sales: Mobile vs. Desktop
It’s clear that mobile phones have come to dominate the internet world, and it’s also become evident that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, there is one area that still depends heavily on desktop internet, and that is eCommerce.
Mobile eCommerce is indeed growing. In fact, since 2016, mobile eCommerce sales have jumped from $970 million per year to more than $3.56 million, which represents a 267 percent increase. However, when we compare that to the overall eCommerce market, we see a much different picture. Here is a graph illustrating the percentage of eCommerce sales that have come from mobile eCommerce between the years 2016 and 2020:
This graph shows that mobile eCommerce accounts for just .6 percent of all eCommerce sales, which shows that users seem to strongly prefer shopping using their desktop devices rather than their phones.
Conversion Rates: Mobile vs. Desktop
This conclusion becomes even more evident when we look at conversion rates for eCommerce on mobile and desktop devices.
In general, rates are low, but they have been improving over the years. However, what’s interesting is that the conversion rates on a desktop are nearly four times those on mobile devices. Tablets lie somewhere in the middle.
If we stop to consider this for a moment, there is probably a reason for this. Consider how you shop online – do you click on a link on your phone and immediately buy it? Or do you click on a link, take a look, and then send it to yourself to look at later? Do you open up multiple tabs to read reviews and buying guides and compare the item to other options?
Maybe for smaller purchases, you’re happy just to do all of this on your phone, but when there are larger sums of money involved, you’re likely going to want the bigger screen and enhanced capabilities of a desktop device. So while you may use your phone to find out about a product and do some initial research, the purchase happens on your desktop, which could help explain the dramatic difference in conversion rates between the two.
Mobile Traffic Moving Forward
The data we’ve presented here shows that mobile phones have taken over as the primary means of using the internet in a rather short period of just six years. However, while use has surged over this period, things are leveling off, probably due to stagnation in technological development and other factors. However, we have reason to believe that as we update this study over the next few years, mobile’s share of traffic will go up, likely because of the following factors:
- 5G – Already rolled out in big cities around the country, 5G is the telecommunications industry’s primary focus. It’s a faster network that can handle more activity, meaning performance will improve. This will probably cause people to rely even more on their phones for accessing the internet.
- Cheaper Phones – As the smartphone market continues to grow, prices continue to drop. Yes, top of the line models will still run you a pretty penny, but there are more options than ever, and this is likely to continue. In some cases, phones are even free, which helps those with more financial burdens get access to the web, especially those living in remote areas that previously had no connection.
- Growth in Developing Nations – Internet connectivity has been booming in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Yet, there are still millions and millions of people without access to the internet. As these nations grow economically, expect more internet users, and expect them to be connecting via their phones and not a desktop device.
- Covid-19 – The pandemic that has wreaked havoc on 2020 seems to have no end in sight, and one of the many adaptations we have had to make as a society is to rely even more on our digital devices. We now use our phones for more stuff than ever, such as paying for things, ordering from restaurants, feeding parking meters, and more. It’s likely that the mobile options developed in response to this crisis will remain.
Of course, there are likely other factors to consider, and we have certainly left some out, but what’s clear is that the mobile phone is now the primary source of the internet around the world and that it’s likely this will be the trend for years to come.