/ Technology

Are smartphones your top internet browsing device?

Smartphone and laptop

For the first time, Brits are now using the internet more on their smartphones than on their laptops. Do you do most of your browsing on your phone?

Phones have now leap-frogged laptops to become the most popular device for going online, according to Ofcom’s latest research. It’s a good job the new Which? Convo will be optimised for mobile browsers…

Smartphone’s aren’t a runaway winner, with 33% of internet users saying that their phone is their top browsing device, compared to 30% sticking with their laptop. But that’s still quite the change from last year, where 40% preferred to use their laptop compared to just 22% turning to their phones.

The UK’s now a smartphone society

I’ve seen the change in my own behaviour too. Disregarding my use of a desktop at Which? HQ to work on Which? Convo, I’m mostly on my smartphone. Checking Which? websites, looking at my emails, taking a peek at Facebook, browsing stories on Reddit, sending messages on WhatsApp.

And I’m using my laptop less and less. It’s handy for watching Netflix or for when I need to work from home, but even the first of those tasks is starting to be fulfilled by my tablet. Could I live without my laptop? Probably not, but mobile devices are gradually chipping away at my laptop’s raison d’etre.

The surge is apparently due to 4G mobile broadband. 4G users are watching more online videos, doing more online shopping and doing more online banking than their 3G cousins. I guess I’ll have to put a 4G phone on my Christmas wish list this year.

Mobile manners

The elephant in the room is whether all this smartphone use is a good thing. Apart from your own health (I spend way too long looking at screens), there are manners to think of. Although four in ten people admit to checking their phone at the dinner table, more than half think it’s unacceptable to do so. On that point, I’m very much in favour of a smartphone amnesty in restaurants – pop all your phones on the table and don’t reach for them until the bill’s paid. That keeps all conversations at the table, rather than over the airwaves.

Are you doing more of your internet browsing on your smartphone? What role does your laptop or PC play in your life, and has that changed over the past few years?

Which device do you MOST use to go online?

Desktop PC (46%, 1,040 Votes)

Laptop (39%, 887 Votes)

Tablet PC (8%, 187 Votes)

Smartphone (6%, 134 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,248

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When there’s serious work (or surfing) to be done, nothing beats a computer with a decent monitor and keyboard, e.g. a good desktop PC or a docked laptop.

But mobile ‘net acess via phones, tablets and laptops is useful too.

Yvonne says:
21 August 2015

For emails, ordering on the web etc. I have a laptop with an additional large screen (ideal for editing photos). I never use my phone for emails as I need reading glasses to see the screen & even then the small print annoys me. The additional screen is also great for dragging & dropping etc.

People now have seem to do not have time to wait . They must do everything as soon as possible today it’s all about speed in every thing they do

I am rather shocked at the number of people who are meant to be using smartphones for online banking given the grave security flaws of Android.

Ignorance must be bliss. : )

” A security gap on Android, the most popular smartphone operating system, was discovered by security experts in a lab and is so far not widely exploited.

Android is the most popular mobile operating system on Earth: About 80 percent of smartphones run on it. And, according to mobile security experts at the firm Zimperium, there’s a gaping hole in the software — one that would let hackers break into someone’s phone and take over, just by knowing the phone’s number.

In this attack, the target would not need to goof up — open an attachment or download a file that’s corrupt. The malicious code would take over instantly, the moment you receive a text message.
“This happens even before the sound that you’ve received a message has even occurred,” says Joshua Drake, security researcher with Zimperium and co-author of Android Hacker’s Handbook. “That’s what makes it so dangerous. [It] could be absolutely silent. You may not even see anything.”

SO everyone currently with an Android operating system is waiting on the manufacturer of their particular phone to deploy the fix to the flaw found in the Spring this year. Reassuring to think that whilst we are told it has not been used to gain control of a phone there is no real way to know.

There are around 54 exploits listed at CVEdetails .com. This is not a complete list and for most users is incomprehensible. However the gist is that the Android system, like most operating systems , is deployed with built in flaws that eventually are discovered.

Obviously the chances of particularly being picked on for a fraud are low. Having your pictures and photos trawled is possible. And of course someone deliberately trying to brick phones must be considered an unlikely threat. However rather like the lottery “It could be you”.

It would be worthwhile if there was a central register for people to report hacked phones so an idea of scale might be gained by the general public. The carriers , the vendors, and the manufacturers all have a vested interest in underplaying threats.

You could of course include banks and on-line shopping venues who all benefit from lowered costs of providing a service.

I removed all on-line banking Apps from my Android phone as soon as I heard of that threat.

I also only use my own 3G connections or reputable home wifi networks. I won’t use free wifi in venues such as restaurants because it is all too easy for hackers to either offer their own “trojan” networks or monitor network traffic at such venues.

I use Kaspersky security software. Does that provide protection?

Your comments about the security of android are nonsense:

Using the same measure you referenced (number of security vulnerabilities discovered):
* Android had 54 vulnerabilities discovered
* The Iphone had 537 security vulnerabilities discovered
* Windows 7 had 448 security vulnerabilities discovered
* OSX had 1,143 security vulnerabilities discovered

.. making Android *by far* the safest way to access online banking if you’re going by CVE count.

All operating systems and computer systems will have vulnerabilities – but Android stands out from all the other commonly used operating systems as being the most secure!

” More vulnerabilities were discovered in Google Chrome last year than any other piece of core internet software – that’s according to research that also found 2014 clocked record numbers of zero-day flaws.”
The Register 26/3/2015

20/8/15 The Register
Yet another potentially serious security flaw has been revealed in Android.
This time the problem involves the mobile operating system’s ability to run more than one app at once – as opposed to its handling of multimedia messages, which was the crux of a cyber* of vulnerabilities last month.
The latest security blunder opens the door to criminals who want to spy on device owners, steal login details, install ransomware, and so on, it is claimed.
We’re told the vulnerability can be exploited to show a spoofed user interface, controlled by an attacker, when someone starts an app: the owner will not be aware that they are typing into another program masquerading as a legit application.
“The enabled attacks can affect all latest Android versions and all apps (including the most privileged system apps) installed on the system,” warned Chuangang Ren, a security researcher from Penn State University.
A paper on the vulnerability [PDF] – presented at the USENIX Security 15 conference in Washington DC last week – explained:”

Google says there is security in place to protect from this however one cannot but feel University researchers may have tested this before going into print so I am not necessarily believing Google when they talking of their system.

Overall the statistics provided by Tim illustrate that software is inherently buggy and therefore you should not be totally surprised that there are constsnt up-dates , some ahead of problems and some behind events.

I don’t own a tablet and I don’t use my smartphone on the internet.

I could get a tablet, but I don’t really have a need for it, so I don’t see the point of wasting money on something that will get rarely used and quickly go out of date.

My smartphone is now over 6 years old and has the largest screen I could find at the time. I did connect it to the internet once through my home wifi, but as everything is so small on it didn’t see the point and internet browsing was quite expensive then anyway. I know screens have changed and come a long way since then and internet browsing has become more affordable but I still have no need to use my phone for anything other than calls, texts and the odd photo.

Things go around in circles. We started off with fairly basic internet on the equivalent of A4 screens that now fill up widescreen with more information on them than you can digest. Now websites are being designed for smartphones with PCs taking the backseat. The new BBC website is available to view and it is designed for smartphones with big pictures and a small amount of large text. It takes forever to scroll through and the width is now less than the A4 size it used to be. Is this really progress or just the latest fad?

Mobile phones started off quite large then the fad was smaller the better, now they are getting larger again. Most of the time I have seen other people showing off the internet on their phones, they don’t seem to achieve much other than showing off. I wonder how long before everyone has a smart phone, gets fed up with the restrictive view of a small screen and they revert back to a laptop or pc?

I can see that smartphones can be very useful when out and about, but I can’t see them taking the place of my pc or laptop any time soon.

I don’t have a tablet, just a Dell laptop and an iPhone. I rarely do web surfing on my iPhone as the screen is too small and Safari on iOS is not as capable as a PC-based web browser. I probably use more online services on my iPhone than on my laptop, but my laptop accounts for more bandwidth overall.

I use a smartphone, tablet and laptop. I would not use the phone or tablet for banking or anything financial and if I far prefer to use the laptop if I’m going to input text, such as when contributing to Which? Convo.

Now that I have a smartphone, I don’t use my tablet nearly as often but it’s great for travelling by train and handy to have in the car.

shirley says:
15 August 2015

I much prefer to sit down in front of my PC to surf the web, I can jot things down and print out items.
I use my Hudle to watch You Tube painting videos when I am downstairs and relaxing, also to take photos in the garden of plants which I can then send to my PC for storage. My PC is my first port of call any-time.

Banana Fingers says:
15 August 2015

Although it’s sometimes useful to use apps, including a browser, when you’re out and about, I don’t understand why anybody would do *most* of their browsing on their phone. If you’re searching for a gift on Amazon or downloading a movie or playing a video game, why use miniature technology? I have a high quality 24″ Dell monitor on my desktop, along with a full-size keyboard and mouse. I also have a laptop. Why struggle with a tiny mobile keyboard and squint at a 5″ screen unless you’re away from home?

I see the metric reported by Ofcom is “time taken” not “work done” or even “data transferred”.

So if it takes 3 times as long to browse the Argos pages when using a “postage stamp” for a screen that counts as “more usage” than if I do the task faster and more effectively on a desktop.

Also, if you count the time spent streaming audio, I am much more likely to listen to streamed audio using a smartphone (wot I can move around with me) than a desktop (that has to stay in one place).

As you say, this is related to the spread of 4G but that is not yet widely available away from main population centres. My phone is 4G capable but I do not yet have a 4G Sim as I am rarely anywhere where 4G is available – 3G is not guaranteed, or any signal in the countryside.

The Conversation called “Which apps make you ‘appy?” two and a half years ago didn’t throw up any really exciting things you can do with a smartphone and many apps were seen as little more than a novelty and generally rarely used. Most of the things that people said they did would probably be more comfortably done on a laptop or desktop PC [unless it’s absolutely essential that you do them while on the move, like travel updates and remote accessing home functions]. I agree with Alfa above: the rush to optimise every website for miniature screens is not progress, and I happen to think that quality of life is in inverse ratio to the number of devices and applications.

Patrick – I notice you “take a peak” at Facebook; you see the damage this does do to your spelling!

Not piqued I hope.

Patrick, what will Which do with the poll results? Is it going to be used to commission new research into smartphone usage and their vulnerabilities, or is it just to help Which’s marketing department focus on where to bring in new members, and what to redesign the website for?

I wonder how many of these ‘desktops’ are in fact laptops.

I guess a fair number. I use the desktop PC about 70%of the time and the rest is on a laptop that is virtually a desktop in the sense that it never gets unplugged or gets down from the table. Much prefer the desktop, however.

Which is more noisy? The laptop or the desktop?

AndyB says:
15 August 2015

Interesting to see that with 225 votes cast so far the results show the complete opposite to the article, with smartphone use firmly at the bottom of the list!

I agree with other people who have posted here that when on a PC it is annoying to have to endlessly scroll to view pages which have been designed with small screesn in mind.

According to Ofcom:

Despite its multiple uses, the smartphone remains primarily a communications device. Almost three-quarters (72%) of the time spent on a smartphone is on communications activities, including text messages, email, using social networks, instant messages and calls (voice or video). (Reading / browsing activities are 14%)

It does ask the question why websites are optimising their sites for smartphone usage over PC/Laptops? They need to ask themselves who they are converting it for? Do they think they will attract more younger viewers/members? Or will they alienate their existing viewers/members?

The new BBC website looks dreadful, scrolling is annoying, and if youngsters are not interested in the news now are unlikely to suddenly change just because it looks better on their smartphones.

Websites need to cater for both large and small screen users. One size just does not fit all.

As I write, the poll shows that over four times as many use a desktop computer to go online compared with a smartphone. Maybe that would be the case if social media did not exist.

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The use of the word ‘smart’ is just sales talk; there is nothing smart about these devices, they are just different to the previous devices. If there is anything smart about them (including smart meters) it is the designers and sales people. Only fools and horses use phones for financial transactions given that the security is abismal.

As regards security for internet banking, is there really a fundamental difference between a smartphone and a PC or tablet with a 3G/4G data capabilty?

I need to use my computer to for banking and so far have not had a single problem. I don’t need to use my phone or tablet for these purposes, so I don’t see any reason to increase the risk.

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Thanks for your reply.

I suppose my real question was whether or not normal “landline” internet is equally vulnerable to these types of “man-in-the-middle” attacks?

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Thanks Duncan,

Today’s hot web security news in the UK is “Customer data stolen from Ashley Madison, a dating website for married people who wish to cheat on their spouse, has reportedly been published.”

I think events such as this one show that much of the security risks to internet users come from servers being hacked, so whether or not individuals access the net only by cables or via the use of radio networks (wifi, cell phone, terrestrial microwave link, satellite communications etc) would be a secondary consideration.

In similar vein, it does not matter whether or not users’ local “terminals” are running Windows or other OSes – a successful server hack will be able to steal any and all private data on the server.

Hence my view is pretty much that it is OK to use smartphones for internet access. However, the more important question is the extent to which I would want to share (and thus risk) any private data in any such transactions. As the Ashley Madison hack shows, not all data breaches can be fixed just by changing passwords or credit card numbers.

Well now we have it NSA grade bugging software is in use by the bad guys.

I for one do not feel that the convenience of on-line banking is sufficient that I am prepared to risk potential problems arising from exploits.

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