Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tablet ownership in Northern Ireland outstrips rest of UK

Smartphone savvy and addicted to tablets, our over-55s lead way in technology revolution

Tablet computers such as iPads are growing in popularity as 'virtual babysitters' for many parents

A fascinating picture of the growing influence of technology on everyday social life in Northern Ireland has been painted by new research.

The investigation by Ofcom has shown a startling explosion in the use of tablet computers and smartphones that has significantly changed how we interact.

The survey, published today by the communications regulator, also shows:

  • Northern Ireland is the tablet computer capital of the UK with almost one in three homes now owning one
  • The take-up of tablet computers here (29%) is highest of all nations, higher than the UK average (24%)
  • Almost half (45%) of Northern Ireland people own smartphones — up 11% in just 12 months
  • Eight in 10 households have internet access
  • Northern Ireland leads the way in the take-up of pay TV — with 66% of households compared with 59% in the UK.

The research declared Northern Ireland the tablet computer capital of the UK with almost one in three households with one,

That compares with one in four owning tablets elsewhere in the UK, with take-up here particularly marked among people aged 55 and over.

The Northern Ireland figure — which has trebled in the past year — is all the more striking considering the technology didn’t even exist four years ago.

Much of the growth in the market is also coming from households with more disposable income, as well as those in urban areas and homes with children.

Ofcom said parents across the UK are more likely to buy the devices as electronic babysitters to keep kids occupied.

Its Northern Ireland director Jonathan Rose said the take-up of tablet computers here was one example of how Northern Ireland is overtaking other parts of the UK in technological terms.

“The rise of the tablet computer is the big story from this year’s report,” said Mr Rose.

“Consumers value the portability and quick access to the internet at home and on the move that these devices provide.”

The explosion in the use of tablet computers across the UK has created a nation of media multi-taskers, experts have said.

Families may be migrating back to living rooms, in an apparent nod to past traditions, but attitudes towards watching TV have changed completely. Indeed, the research has revealed a boom in a new trend of so-called ‘media meshing’ — whereby people are doing something else related to what they are watching.

Coupled with the growth of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, people are now interacting with each other during programmes in a way that was never possible before.

Examples of media meshing in the ‘digital living room’ include talking on the phone (16%) or using social networks (11%).

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report also revealed that eight in 10 Northern Ireland homes now have access to the internet — up 7% (some extra 50,000) from 2012.

Smartphone ownership increased by a third last year, with 45% of people, aged 16 and over, in Northern Ireland now in possession of a device such as a Blackberry — up 11% from last year.

More than half those surveyed log on to Facebook, Twitter and similar services, while a similar proportion bank online or buy goods and services such as clothes or holidays.

More than half of adults UK-wide multi-task while watching TV, including texting or using social networks like Twitter to comment on what they are watching. Others use smartphones and tablets for completely unrelated activities such as surfing online.

Web-based forms of communication like e-mail or social networking has overtaken texting among those aged 16-24.

Northern Ireland also leads the way in take-up of pay TV, with two-thirds of homes having Sky, Virgin Media, BT or paid-for top-up services compared with 59% of the UK as a whole.

Mr Rose said: “It is encouraging to see that the availability, take up and use of most communications services in Northern Ireland are now on a par with, and in some cases, ahead of the rest of the UK.”

A total of 507 interviews were carried out in Northern Ireland by Ofcom in January and February.

Bad reception

In its 2013 report, Ofcom said mobile users in Northern Ireland are more likely to be dissatisfied and to experience problems with mobile coverage than consumers in other parts of the UK, with three-quarters of those surveyed having reported issues. Most complaints were about reception, but there have been improvements in coverage recently. Ofcom said the situation is likely to improve further over the next 18 months. Improvement measures include Stormont Executive projects and investment by operators in networks.

Multi-tasking

Huge growth in smartphone and tablet ownership across the UK is creating a nation of media multi-taskers, transforming the traditional living room into a digital media hub. Ofcom’s report reveals people are still coming together to watch TV in the living room; 91% of UK adults view TV on the main set each week, up from 88% in 2002. But, people are streaming videos, firing off instant messages and updating their social media status. All while watching more TV than before.

So, has this tech made life better?

Innovation is fun and enriching

Be proud, we're early-adopters!

American innovator Mitch Kapor once said that ‘getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant’.

Is this a bad thing? He said this a few years ago before the dramatic increase in the use of mobile and tablet devices.

Innovation, technology and the way we all interact socially moves on. The sight of the family huddled around the living room TV watching a set of linear programmes has evolved into each and every one of them having their own device and consequently their own experience. But it's not an isolated experience. As a new democracy is born, everyone has an opinion and everyone has a forum to share this opinion, whether it be a polemical view about the quality of the acting in EastEnders, or the joining and development of a conversation on a local news item. By interacting with TV programmes via mobile devices and tablets, we open up a new universe of opinion, conversation and insight that is far more diverse than the rigidity of gatekeepers in traditional media channels.

Then there's the much needed benefits to businesses in Northern Ireland and consequently the consumer. By understanding the different online behaviours on different devices, businesses can provide the best possible customer journey and keep consumers coming back. The increased use of mobile devices allows businesses to interact with customers in new and exciting ways. Not least, the real-time reviews and discussions that the availability of mobile devices facilitates — how much more do we trust a review from our peers than from anywhere else?

So Kapor's fire hydrant quote may not be derogatory. Negative health effects (of drinking from a fire hydrant) aside, you don't know how enriching and fun it might be until you've tried it.

JONNY CAMERON, Navajo Talk, digital marketing agency

A negative force on the family

The year on year rise in tablet and smartphone ownership is having a major impact on how we search, shop and socialise.

Devices such as the iPad allow us to manage our businesses, buy products and engage via social media — all on a handheld device.

However it’s interesting to note some of the major challenges that connected devices present to three areas in particular — family, work and business. First let’s look at how the trend affects family life.

Although I’m a huge supporter of technology as a force for improving our lives, I’m always struck by the volume of people who see the rise of connected devices as a very negative force on family life. Many parents lament the fact that their kids and partners are sitting beside them in the living room while using their smart phone and tablets to socialise with other people. There’s even a new term for it — atomisation.

There no doubt that the rise in the ‘always on’ connected device has led to an expectation that workers are expected to be constantly accessible to their work. Ask most workers and they will tell you that the huge rise in smartphone ownership is a mixed blessing. One on hand it leads to greater flexibility, however it also increases demands for people to answer work emails and complete tasks out of office hours. In the US there’s even calls for staff to be paid for the time they spend completing work e-mails.

The trend also has major implications for businesses. Over 35% of all internet page views in the UK are from a handheld device. That’s a worrying statistic for businesses who have websites that aren’t accessible on mobile.

Consumers have new expectations on brands and businesses who in turn need to develop an effective presence on mobile.

Paul McGarrity, director of Octave Online Communications, an internet marketing consultancy

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