With most “predictions for 2013” blog posts hopefully out of the way (myself included), a look at some technology usage comparisons is in order. Harris Interactive, known for the “Harris Poll”, recently completed a commissioned research study concerning priorities for usage between smartphones and computers. The poll surveyed over 2,300 adults last November and queried them on their usage of both. Some of the numbers are predictable: texting and instant messaging (sending/receiving) are predominantly performed on smartphones (87%), along with mapping/navigation (73%). Surprisingly, 56% of the respondents use the computer for mapping/navigation. With worldwide mobile phone penetration being so high it makes you wonder who in the remaining 44% are walking around with a computer looking for the nearest Starbucks. Maybe planning ahead is still in fashion?
The numbers start to become more interesting when you look closely at the other uses: email usage on computers is high at 90%. Email is also highly utilized on smartphones at 72%, but that breaks down to greater personal email reading (67%) than writing (56%). Work email usage is lower, with 38% of this type of email being read on a smartphone, while writing is at 32%.
Let’s take a break from the numbers for a moment to ponder some potential reasons why. The first thought might be form factor. Let’s face it, it is easier to type faster and more accurately on a regular keyboard than on a small glass screen. Reading email, particularly personal email, is easier to do on your smartphone than on your computer while at work (as it might even be against policy). It is pretty commonplace to be given a work computer and if you are lucky, reimbursement for your smartphone. The bring your own device (BYOD) process is sweeping organizations but even so, computing assets may still need to be on hand. Cisco reported in a survey last year that 42% of smartphones and 38% of laptops used at work are employee owned. They also found that in their own experience once employee-owned devices were allowed, mobile device connections to their networks more than doubled.
Next is social media. Computers at the moment win this race with 69% and smartphones coming in close behind at 64%. Sharing and writing posts (51%, 50%, respectively) are also higher on the computer than the smartphone (44%, 43%, respectively). Then, an interesting shift takes place: the numbers for social media “check-ins” are higher for smartphones at 43% over computers at 28%.
Again, it’s likely that size matters when manipulating social media. The ability to crop photos, edit video, and generally inhale the whole social experience is clearly more limited on a 7-inch screen. But it’s far easier to check-in from a mobile for the obvious reason that you are no longer near your computer – you are on the go somewhere and of course some feel the need to share this information.
Finally, purchasing goods is still dominant in computer usage at 78%, followed by a lagging 23% of smartphone users. This lines up with a separate December study that showed 23% of smartphone users surveyed shopped via their mobile at Wal-Mart. Is this another issue of visual stimulus, or a fear of purchases made from the phone? In late 2011, Business Insider reported that consumers were using credit cards over mobile at a four to one ratio. They also cited a Consumers Union report that showed mobile payments charged to phones weren’t providing the same protections as using a card. Again, it’s easier to input a credit card number over a computer than a smartphone. More importantly, if the ease of use (charging it directly to your phone) doesn’t at least match a card, it will take a while to change this thinking.
So where does all of this trending take us from a mobile security perspective? Clearly, some things are better left to desktop than mobile at least for today. We can rest assured that designers, manufacturers and developers are going to do their best to change that perception. Either we are all going to grow accustomed to the smaller view and keyboard on a mobile phone, or we’ll find a more convenient way to see and type (Google Glass, Siri, or Dragon anyone?) As mentioned above, text, instant messaging and email on the mobile device is on the rise. This will mean links to malware, phishing and other bad things will increase through these channels, so user awareness should as well. Increased access to social media sites will mean more auto-logins from the mobile device, leading to higher risks for unsecured phones. The increased mobile usage will also have an impact on the burden to the infrastructure as well as the importance of its stability (making for a prime cyberattack target). Yet the Harris report reveals a fascinating insight into the enduring dependency on the desktop computer – something most users keep largely more secure than their phones, which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.
About the Author:
John Ceraolo is the chief security officer at 3Cinteractive where he directs the organization’s enterprise risk management, business continuity, and information security. Ceraolo has been leading security initiatives within global organizations for over 20 years.