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Finding simplicity in a multi-device world

by Olly Robinson , 06.03.2014

Facebook commissioned GfK to better understand people’s behavior as they move across multiple devices, including smartphones, tablets and laptops or PCs, throughout the day.

As tablets and smartphones have become increasingly entwined within our everyday lives, switching between these devices and our trusty laptops or PCs is becoming ever more common. A few years back, a person might have bought tickets to a concert online after seeing it advertised on TV or hearing about it on the radio. Today that same person might learn about a concert from any number of online sources – a blog, app, social media, etc. – while using their smartphone during their morning commute. Then, later that day, they might buy tickets via their laptop or tablet.

To better understand people's behavior across multiple devices, Facebook commissioned international market research agency GfK to perform a study of more than 2,000 people in both the UK and the US, to explore these changes and the resulting implications for marketers.

The study shows that, as multiple devices become an integral part of our lives, switching between them is becoming standard practice. In both countries, more than 60% of online adults use at least two devices every day, while a quarter (25%) of online Americans and a fifth (20%) of online Britons use three devices. In both countries, more than 40% sometimes start an activity on one device only to finish it on another.

Different devices, different roles

Though it's easy to assume people use all devices for all purposes, it turns out that's not the case. The GfK study found that people feel a different connection to each device, and each plays a distinct role.

In general the smartphone is considered the go-to device; over three-quarters of adults who own one use it while they are out and about (77% in the UK and 76% in the US) – it is always present and is used most commonly for communication and social activity. The tablet is viewed as the entertainment hub and is often used at home, where close to half (50% of Britons and 43% of Americans) are shared with others. The laptop or PC is the workhorse — 86% of UK and 80% of US online adults that own one use it at home, and it tends to be dedicated to important tasks like work or managing finances.

In search of convenience and comfort

In both countries, more than 40% of online adults report that they sometimes begin an activity on one device and finish on another, according to the GfK study. This number increases with the amount of devices one owns: over half of those who own two devices switch between them to complete tasks or activities, going up to around three-quarters for those with three devices. Reasons for switching vary, but in general people tend to move to a larger screen. Among the entire device switches covered in the study, up to a quarter (25% in UK and 22% in US) ended with a tablet and well over a half (60% in UK and 58% in US) with a laptop.

Most often, people start on a smartphone, then move to the bigger screen for reasons including the ease of typing on a larger device. Comfort and convenience are the main reasons people switch devices mid-activity, but the urgency of the task, the length of time involved, security and privacy concerns, and the level of detail required are other important considerations. And while switching devices can happen at work, in cafes and everywhere in between, it occurs most often at home in front of the TV, when all devices are within easy reach.

Mobile throughout the day

The study showed that Facebook and email are the activities most likely to take place across all devices, and that the mobile is the only device used continuously throughout the day. For example, when on public transport, Britons are 10x more likely to use their smartphone than their laptop and 3x more likely to use their smartphone than their tablet, while Americans are 8x and 2x more likely, respectively.

Creating consistency in a complicated world

Not surprisingly, with people constantly moving between devices, it is important for marketers to reach their audience across all platforms. Brand experiences should be consistent, allowing for people to begin an activity on one device and finish on another. Facebook can help provide a constant thread by device and by context. Because people use their real identity on Facebook, it's easier to reach, report and measure across devices, creating consistency in a complicated world.

GfK Facebook multi device study

*Source: "Multi-Device Usage Study," by GfK Nov - Dec 2013 (study commissioned by Facebook). Survey of 2,018 UK online adults and 2,004 US online adults.

To find out more about this study please contact Olly Robinson at oliver.robinson@gfk.com. For more information on our digital capabilities click here >>