Communication platforms – fast, now, or visible? [TUPdate]

Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, March 12, 2021

The frustrated plea “can you hear me now?” has evolved to include “can you see me now?” During pandemic and suddenly-working-at-home times, video calls have driven home the importance of having a robust, fast, and synchronous connection. Asynchronous activities such as text messaging and email don’t have the same need for speed and an instantaneous persistent connection.

It got me wondering – are people choosing one device over another for communication that demands higher-bandwidth or low-latency connections? Is there an age difference preference for right-now synchronous versus later-on asynchronous communication activities? Furthermore, are there other aspects beyond bandwidth and immediacy that encourage people to choose one device over another for certain types of communications? Are video work meetings, for example, more PC-based than smartphone-based?

So, I investigated our results from TUP/Technology User Profile 2020 to compare how widely communication activities are in regular use. I netted together asynchronous activities separately from synchronous ones. Then, I looked at differences by device type – smartphone, home PC, and tablet. I also looked at differences by age group, knowing that younger adults often have different sensibilities and experiences around communication than older or the oldest adults.

Synchronous and asynchronous communication levels by country

Smartphones are the overall favorites for communication activities, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Most online adults use a smartphone for both types. In the US and UK, 91% and 90%, respectively, regularly do communication activities of both types. In Japan, 19% of online adults use any connected device for only asynchronous and not synchronous activities, such as email or text messages. Similarly, 14% of online adults in Japan use their smartphones for only asynchronous communication.

Interestingly, home PCs and tablets’ usage profiles are more comparable to each other than to smartphones. Most users use home PCs and tablets for asynchronous communication activities.

How communication differs by device type

When people are ready to communicate, most have a choice of devices.

The top asynchronous activity – personal email – is a regular activity for nearly all online adults. Among German online adults, typical usage is 86%, and among online adults in Japan, the rate is 75%. Personal email is also among the top two asynchronous communication activities for smartphones, home PCs, and tablets. In Germany, more online adults use a home PC for personal email than use a smartphone. In the US, UK, and Japan, as many online adults smartphones as use home PCs.

The top synchronous activity – personal phone calls – is also widespread. However, it only ranks as a widely used activity with smartphones. Instead, most home PCs and tablet users do web-based group meetings such as with Microsoft Teams and video calls such as with Facetime or Zoom.

Different ages – different communication styles

Age matters. Habits persist as people age. Higher numbers of older adults use their smartphones than home PCs for synchronous communication. Many seniors use home PCs for personal email, while fewer younger adults do so, except for work email.

Device type used most often for specific communication activities

Users are demonstrating that there is more than speed and presence affecting their choice of a communication device. Yes, a smartphone is the primary communication device for most online adults. However, most online adults choose PCs for group meetings. On PCs, it is easier for viewers to see other meeting participants. Group chats and video calls for work are evenly divided between smartphones, PCs, or a mixture.

Looking ahead

Communication is a critical set of activities for connected adults and likely to remain so well into the future. People use most of their connected devices for one type of communication or another. However, user’s choices of communication platforms are not entirely based on a single device type. Although the smartphone has continued to grow as the primary communication device of choice for nearly every kind of communication, PCs are still the favorite for sharing screens and interactions with more than one person. While a high-speed and persistent connection is preferred, choices are more about the device type than how it is connected.

Bandwidth will increase in the US and other countries with the continued rollout of 5G wireless and fixed gigabit connections. Communication apps will not be much more resource-intensive than they are today. As the pandemic eases and more people become more mobile than they are today, many will likely change their communication device preferences if they don’t find adequate, stable high-speed connections while they’re traveling.

One thing we can count on for the future: we’re still likely to see repeated communication snafus (see Lawyer Cat) and phrases (“Your mute button is on!”) as a growing wave of online adults experiments for the first time with types of communication.

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