Smartphones and smart TVs replace the PC

Changing consumer habits

Consumers are now accessing the Internet through a range of smart devices – in greater numbers than ever before.

According to Insider Intelligence’s annual “Global Media Intelligence Report” on key digital trends worldwide, ownership of PCs and/or tablets continues to decline in many countries. Smartphones are already the primary – and sometimes the only – digital device owned by many Internet users around the world. Advanced cell phones continue to solidify this position and will continue to push back devices with larger screens.

The Global Media Intelligence Report is a concise, detailed compilation of data and insights on traditional and digital media usage by Internet users in 43 key markets worldwide. Six major regions are covered – Asia Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Middle East and Africa, North America and Western Europe. For each market, mobile and non-mobile device penetration rates are available alongside current media consumption, along with demographic breakdowns by age, gender and income or socio-economic groups.

In the following section, we take up individual areas from the report in summary form and describe their development over the past year. We then go into more detail on the biggest changes.

mediennutzung 2021

Trends that shaped the media landscape in 2021

Largely decreasing demand from PCs and tablets

The rise of home office and distance learning in 2020 has encouraged the proliferation of devices with larger screens. However, this did not halt the longer-term trend of overall decline.

Rising desktop, laptop, and tablet ownership in the Asian region

Between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, the penetration of desktops, laptops and tablets declined in almost all markets. Some countries in the Asia-Pacific region – including China, Japan and Thailand – saw slight increases in both devices. PC ownership also increased in India, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. In these countries, PCs and tablets have entered the mainstream after cell phones. They are still considered desirable, particularly in middle- and higher-income households.

Stable distribution of smartphones

The proportion of smartphone owners is essentially the same as in 2020 and almost uniformly high. This is no surprise, as smartphones are already the dominant digital device for the vast majority of internet users worldwide.

Growth in smart home devices

Penetration has generally been below 15 %, but in a few cases has been significantly higher. In the UK, for example, one in four internet users owned at least one smart home product in the first half of 2021. In the U.S., that figure was 20.5 %.

Notwithstanding these global trends, many details vary across the 42 countries monitored by GWI, especially as pandemic-related factors have further increased the complexity of individual markets.

Comprehensive functions for voice assistants

The GWI first asked about the use of voice-controlled phone apps such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana and smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home in 2019. In 2021, researchers went further and asked participants if they had used voice assistants in the past week to find information or perform an action, such as playing a song. In most countries, searching for information was the most common.

Variation in social media use

Internet users in most Latin American and many Asia-Pacific countries spent more than 3 hours a day on social networking and messaging. In Europe, by contrast, social media use was less than 2 hours per day.

Smart devices have seen the greatest development, which we discuss in more detail below. We also take a closer look at smartphone usage in Germany.

smartwatch nutzung

Smartwatch benefits from increasing wearables use

Adoption of other smart products has accelerated. In 2020, only a small minority of Internet users surveyed owned a smartwatch, but increasing momentum was evident. This trend then continued into 2021, with penetration increasing significantly in most countries.

27 % increase in smartwatch sales by Q2 in 2021

The smartwatch’s less expensive cousin, the smart wristband, also benefited from greater interest in fitness and wellness during the pandemic.

The digital audio market continues to evolve, but radio has not disappeared. Radio’s reach shrank in 2021 in many markets, but time spent with radio has barely changed since 2020, or shifted by only a few minutes per day.

The number of Internet users listening to online radio, audiobooks, and other digital audio content also declined by 3 %. This decline may be due in part to the GWI removing Google Play Music from the list of covered audio services because the service was discontinued. Nevertheless, music streaming took up more time in almost all countries last year. In addition, Internet users in most countries devoted at least 30 minutes per day to podcasts – a new metric in the 2021 survey.

“When, where and how people consume media is constantly evolving, and 2021 is no exception as the global pandemic continues to change our daily routines for the second year,” said Kelly Kokonas, EVP, Global Data Strategy, Publicis Media-Starcom. “For markets across the spectrum of smart and mobile tech adoption and digital video maturity, this report offers deep, cross-market insights into how people of all demographics and backgrounds are being empowered by technology and experiencing their world in new ways.”

Video-on-demand offerings are pioneers

Smart TVs are on the rise, as high-quality entertainment at home is increasingly becoming a must. In all but a handful of countries, ownership of smart TVs has risen by several percentage points year-on-year.

Smart TV distribution rises by more than 50 % (in some countries)

Jason Mander, Chief Research Officer at research partner GWI, says: “We’ve been closely monitoring the impact of the pandemic around the world. For the second year in a row, we see the pandemic having a major impact on media consumption and device ownership. Some countries were affected more or differently this year (2021) than last year.”

He continues, “Of course, many Internet users had already experienced the kind of restrictions imposed during the first phase of the pandemic in 2020, so we would have expected little change in their media behavior in 2021. That was the case in some instances, but in others, a second year of the pandemic appears to have led to significant changes. For example, digital video has overtaken television in many countries. Subscription video-on-demand offerings saw a big boost in 2021, suggesting that many Internet users who resisted the pull of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other providers last year (2020) finally gave in to temptation as the pandemic continued.”

Germans’ smartphone usage surprises

Patterns of device ownership and usage remain fairly conservative in Germany.

Smartphone ownership among Internet users aged 16 to 64 exceeded 95 % in 2020 in the first half of the year.

95.9 % of Germans own a smartphone in Q1 of 2021

Only 2.9 % of respondents owned a “feature phone.” As in the I. and II. Q1 of 2020, this was one of the lowest percentages recorded globally for this metric.

The percentage of Internet users who owned a desktop or laptop declined slightly year-over-year, but was still high by global standards at 83.5 % in the first half of 2021. Penetration correlated directly with age; in the oldest cohort (65 years or older), 88.5 % of respondents owned a PC. More than half (54.3 %) of Internet users owned a tablet – a slight increase compared to 2020.

Although almost all German internet users owned a smartphone, most did not spend very much time with it. In the first half of 2021, the average time spent per day on mobile devices was 2 hours and 18 minutes (2:18) – compared to 3:19 spent on desktops/laptops and tablets. Mobile devices also took up less time than televisions (2:19). This pattern, typical of many Western European countries, differs markedly from that in much of Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. There, time spent on mobile devices often exceeds live TV by two hours or more.

Still, the data do suggest some overarching patterns.


The report makes clear that consumer media consumption is increasingly moving toward an all-encompassing digital experience at home, with video-on-demand offerings which are pioneers. It also shows that PCs and laptops are being used less frequently and that other smart devices such as the smartphone or smartwatch have become daily companions in their place. The pandemic and the above-average amount of time spent at home as a result had a major influence on this.

This is just a small sample of the detailed information provided by the report. The wealth of detail on the media behavior of digital citizens in 43 key markets worldwide should be invaluable to advertisers and marketers as they develop and execute strategies and campaigns for 2022.