Social Networks rise, Shopping falls: How Indians are Using Smartphones in Covid-19 Times

More WhatsApp and Instagram, More Adventure Games

by: - Last updated on: March 28th, 2020

The Covid-19 virus, popularly being referred to as Corona, has changed our lives. Many regions of the world are in lockdown, with people being confined to their homes and being advised not to step out. In these circumstances, it would seem that those with access to it, would end up using technology far more than usual. A glance at social networks seems to indicate a greater interest in using online streaming services like Netflix and HotStar and more people asking about which apps they can use to work from home, or just play with their friends (we have some online game options here).

covid india smartphones
Image: AP Photo/Bikas Das

But is this actually the case? BARC-Nielsen has come out with a report (“COVID-19 IMPACT, WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE TV & SMARTPHONE LANDSCAPE”) on how the Covid-19 virus has affected the smartphone usage and television consumption in the country. We are taking a closer look at the smartphone section of the report. The research covers smartphone usage in India from 16 – 22 March and compares it with 13 January – 2 February 2020, which it takes as the pre-Covid-19 period.

Yes, we are spending more time on our phones

india covid smartphone usage

It is hardly surprising that the report indicates that people are now spending more time on their smartphones. However, the increase is not as dramatic as we had thought – it has gone up to 25 hours a week in the Covid phase as compared to 23.6 hours in the pre-Covid one. Interestingly, the older folk in the age group of 35-44 years showed the greatest increase – by 11 percent. Those in the age group of 15-24 years increased smartphone usage by just 7 percent, while those in the 25-34 range increased phone usage by a mere 3 percent.

Geographically, smartphone usage increased the most not in metros (as many would have assumed), but actually in mini-metros, where it went up by 8 percent as compared to 6 percent in metros. Similarly, the increase in time spent on phones was greater in Tier 2 cities where it went up by 6 percent (same as metros) as compared to just two percent in Tier 1 cities.

And most interesting, girls and women are using their smartphones slightly more than boys and men are – the increase in smartphone usage in the female gender was 7 percent as compared to 6 percent in the male.

More news, more social networking (gains for Instagram)

Given the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that people spent a lot of time on social networks, online gaming, and chats. The most time was spent on chat and VOIP (277 minutes a week, an increase of 23 percent), followed by 242 minutes on social networks (an increase of 25 percent), 219 minutes were spent on video on demand (interestingly just an increase of 3 percent), while gaming increased by 11 percent but still trailed all these, clocking up 169 minutes. News consumption increased by an impressive 17 percent but actually was only 32 minutes, which sort of makes us wonder if people were relying on social networks and chats for their news, rather than news apps and websites. Oh, and for those who wish to know – call times went up by a relatively unimpressive 4 percent. Clearly, the Internet has changed the way we communicate.

covid india smartphone usage news

When it comes to games and social networking, it was interesting to observe that the usage patterns seemed to be largely the same in terms of the time of the day in both the Covid and pre-Covid stages. In the pre-Covid stage, people spent the most time on social networks between 6 pm -10 pm and that has broadly remained the same in the post-Covid period as well. Similarly, gaming still hits a peak of around 8-10 pm roughly.

covid india social media

Social networking sessions went up by 19 percent per week, and users 25 percent more time on social networks. Not surprisingly, the increase in time spent on WhatsApp was the highest, with 27 percent more time being spent on the messenger service (hardly surprising, when you consider that people use it to keep in touch), and the number of sessions going up by 20 percent. Both TikTok and Instagram also recorded an increase of 20 percent in sessions, while people had 18 percent more Facebook sessions. In terms of increase in time spent, however, Instagram recorded a greater increase than both Facebook and TitTok, with an increase of 25 percent, as compared to 20 percent for TikTok and 23 percent on Facebook.

Game on – and adventure games get a boost!

Gaming on smartphones went up by 2 percent in terms of users (so basically, not too many people have joined the gaming cause in this period), but gaming usage itself went up by 11 percent to 169 minutes per week. The age group of 16-24 years spent 16 percent more time playing games on their phones. But which games were the rage in this period? The answer will surprise some.

covid india gaming

The amount of time spent on action games (PUBG, Call of Duty, etc.) increased by 12 percent. But the real surprise is that the time spent by consumers playing what the research terms adventure games (Subway Surfer, Temple Run, etc.) went up by a staggering 38 percent. Another significant gainer was the Quiz genre, where users spent 24 percent more time in Q&A mode. Puzzles (Candy Crush, Gardenscape, etc.) recorded an increase of 13 percent. A real surprise, however, was a drop in the use of board games (Ludo, Carrom), with users cutting time spent on them by 2 percent. We wonder if social distancing had a role in this as we have often seen people playing board games on their phones while sitting together even though they have the option of playing them online.

Food, travel and shopping tech take a hit

covid india shopping

With people being advised to stay at home and maintain social distancing, it is hardly surprising that travel tech has taken a huge hit. Travel tech lost 24 percent users and the amount users spent on travel-related apps went down by 32 percent. However, if you thought that with more people staying at home, online shopping and food orders would increase, think again. People actually decreased the time they spent shopping online by 11 percent. Food ordering online had 13 percent fewer users and those who used the apps also actually spent 21 percent lesser time on them.

Interestingly, this data has been compiled for the period just before the lockdown in India began. However, the trends are extremely interesting, and perhaps provide an indication of where things are headed in these testing times.

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