When & Where Are People Using Mobile Devices?

by Luke Wroblewski January 31, 2011

It's hard to find advice about mobile design that doesn't emphasize the importance of context. While many people are quick to point out understanding mobile context is key to delivering a great mobile experience, few define context explicitly enough to make it actionable. That's why I'm always excited to find concrete insights into how people are using mobile devices.

In its simplest form, context is the circumstances under which something happens. For example, desktop computers are most often used: at a desk (in an office or home); with a persistent connection to power and the network; in relative privacy; from a seated position; and so on. While someone can certainly use a mobile device at a desk, there is a much wider set of contexts possible because mobiles are portable.

Since mobile devices are (just about) always with their owners, time and location play a big role in defining their context of use. And because mobile devices have the ability to talk, text, IM, and email people (plus an address book!), social rounds out the triumvirate of mobile context. When you design for mobile you are designing something that can be used anywhere, anytime, and be instantly shared/discussed with other people. But I promised a more concrete definition so let's look at where and when mobile devices are used.

Where are people using mobile devices?

  • 84% at home
  • 80% during miscellaneous downtime throughout the day
  • 76% waiting in lines of waiting for appointments
  • 69% while shopping
  • 64% at work
  • 62% while watching TV (alt. study claims 84%)
  • 47% during commute in to work

Source: Compete's Quarterly Smartphone Report

When are people using mobile devices?

This graph shows the number of articles read each hour by Read It Later users on their computer. The number of reads grows more sharply until noon and then begins to fall off until after work (6PM – 9PM).

Computer Users

The second graph shows the number of articles read by iPhone users each hour. There's four major peaks: 6am (breakfast); 9am (the morning commute and start of workday); 5pm – 6pm (end of the work day and the commute home); 8pm – 10pm (couch time, prime time, bed time).

Computer Users

As you can see there's quite a difference between when people read on computers and on mobile devices and, hopefully, further clarity on when people are actually use mobile devices.