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Coronavirus 'dramatically' shifts user focus from cellphones to bigger screens

Shruti Shekar
Telecom & Tech Reporter
GETTY

As COVID-19 continues to change habits, consumers are shifting their focus from cellphones to laptops and PCs, experts say.

Clare Kumar, a productivity consultant, said in an interview that the major shift to using different devices is because people prefer to have larger screens for comfort. 

“If it’s one on one, your phone is great,” she said. But group meetings are more conducive to a larger screen.

“If there are more than maybe six people I think you’re going to want to be on your computer screen. The interface gives you a better experience for that type of interaction.”

Kumar said that meetings that typically happened in person are now being driven online, requiring more people to use an interface like a desktop or a bigger screen for the same experience. 

“I was on a Zoom meeting for three and a half hours last night. I was on my computer with 200 speaking professionals from all over the world,” she said. “That gives you an idea of the potential increase that some of us are facing in a professional capacity.”

Ramona Pringle, an associate professor of media studies at Ryerson University, said in an interview that the use-case for a cellphone has gone now that many people are working from home.

“We’re all of a sudden not on the go. We don’t need the affordances of mobility as soon as we start leaning into other affordances that may be better or more optimal,” she said.

“We’ve become so reliant on our mobile devices, but once we’re home, the sort of affordances that are the most attractive to us shift dramatically.”

Linn Huang, research vice-president of devices and displays at IDC, said in an interview that the “massive shift in the paradigm” is also happening because it’s not just people working from home, but also students taking classes online, or children playing online games. 

“The power of having a full computer in your pocket that you can queue up anytime you want is a very powerful thing that completely transformed the computing world over the last decade. But when you’re stuck at home, it doesn’t really serve much purpose anymore,” he said. 

According to data from Apptopia and SimilarWeb, streaming services like Netflix and YouTube are seeing viewing numbers go up on their websites and noticing that viewers using their apps are reducing. 

In the U.S., Netflix saw a 16 per cent increase in average daily traffic compared to 0.3 per cent average daily traffic on its app, comparing data on January 21 to the same metrics on March 24. 

Huang emphasized that just because there is a shift to using different screens, it doesn’t mean that the consumer habit to buy these devices will necessarily grow. He noted that when the pandemic dies down the market for devices like PCs, TVs, gaming consoles, printers will still have a minority share. 

“But we’ll have a significantly larger chunk of the mass market that will realize they can’t just let their home become obsolete, just because they can take a computer out of their pocket,” he said. 

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