China Smartphone Use Leans ‘Mobile Only’

With smartphone penetration still in the early stages in China, a new study indicates that the People’s Republic could become a “one screen nation", outpacing the U.S. in consumers who use smartphones as their sole or primary media device, according to a first-of-its-kind cross-cultural report, developed jointly by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Interactive Internet Advertising Committee of China (IIACC), the trade associations for digital media companies in the U.S. and China, respectively.

Released today, the unprecedented joint study, “Mobile’s Role in a Consumer’s Media Day in the United States and in China: The Smartphone as an Extension of the Self and an Extension into the World,” compares consumer smartphone usage habits in two of the world’s most important markets. The research reveals that media consumption is more impacted by smartphone ownership in China. More than a quarter of Chinese smartphone owners report less TV watching and reduced print consumption as a result of owning a mobile connected device (28% and 27% respectively). In comparison to their U.S. counterparts, Chinese smartphone owners are 86 percent more likely to report less TV usage and 42 percent more likely to report less print usage.

In contrast to China smartphone owners’ concentrated focus on the small screen, U.S. smartphone owners are much more likely to consume other media with their mobile devices in hand. For example, while watching TV, smartphone users report participating in:

Internet communication (51% U.S. vs. 10% China)
Reading social media (38% U.S. vs. 9% China)
Conducting a local search (34% U.S. vs. 8% China)

The data shows similar disparities when it comes to reading print media.

Distinct Differences in China's Smartphone Market vs. US

The study also points to distinct attitudinal differences that can help marketers, agency professionals, and publishers to effectively tailor their strategies to reach consumers in both countries. Strikingly, the research illustrates Americans’ greater dependency on their smartphones as devices that they would “never leave home without” (69%). In comparison, merely 6 percent of their Chinese counterparts said the same. Approximately one-third (34%) of Americans said that their smartphone is the “first thing I reach for when I wake up,” as opposed to 7 percent of Chinese smartphone owners.

“China has built some of the world’s most popular and powerful digital brands, including companies like, Baidu, Sohu and RenRen,” said Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO, IAB. “This study will help global marketers understand what these Chinese companies already understand – that the mobile consumer in China is a valuable but complicated force.”

Chinese are also more apt to use their smartphones for web browsing than Americans (32% China vs. 21% U.S.). More than one fifth (23%) of Chinese respondents said that they spent 3 hours or more per day in the last week accessing the internet with their smartphones. The top reason they cited for turning to their smartphones was “entertainment".

“Traditional media companies around the world are watching how mobile is affecting their businesses,” said Chen Yong, General Secretary, the Interactive Internet Advertising Committee of China. “These figures suggest that Chinese media companies need to be even more agile than their American counterparts, as Chinese smartphone users report that their smaller screens have a bigger impact on their media mix.”

“Culturally and economically the United States and China are very different, so it is not surprising that smartphone usage would be different as well, especially considering that Chinese consumers are at an earlier point in the adoption cycle,” said Sherrill Mane, Senior Vice President, Research, Analytics and Measurement, IAB. “Multinational brands must understand that effectiveness of mobile advertising in China is dependent upon an intricate understanding of the local patterns of adoption and develop response strategies suited to the market and consumer behaviors.”

To read the full report, go to

Methodology of the Chinese Mobile Market Report

The research report was based on two separate studies. Both employed a survey methodology and for purposes of comparability, used similar questionnaires. The differences in the survey instruments were largely due to country/culture specifics such as, portals used in China that are not used in the U.S. and the questions used in the China study for the purposes of sizing the market for mobile devices.

The Chinese study used a rigorous multi-stage stratified sampling methodology designed to draw a sample that is representative of all citizens of China aged 10-80. The total sample size was 3539 respondents. The stratification deployed corresponded to four levels of government in China: municipality, provincial capital, prefectural level city and county town. The survey questionnaire was administered via telephone by the Communication Effect Laboratory of Beijing Normal University. The meticulous sampling design and methodology made it possible to size the market for mobile devices in China.

The U.S. study conducted on behalf of the IAB by ABI Research deliberately oversampled tablet users in order to have sufficient size sample to drill down into psychographic segments among those users. In the US, a number of syndicated studies monitor and measure ownership of devices and the marketplace relies on those sources for penetration figures. ABI Research used an online sample to recruit previously profiled smartphone and tablet owners. Due to this targeted sample methodology, a robust sample of 552 smartphone users (use a smartphone at least weekly and use data services) and 563 tablet users (use a tablet at least weekly) aged 18+ responded to the survey. While this sample is not representative of the general US adult population, it does permit broad-based understanding of how smartphone and tablet users respond.

Source: Interactive Advertising Bureau

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