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A man operates an iPhone in London, on November 17, 2011. (ADRIAN DENNIS/ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A man operates an iPhone in London, on November 17, 2011. (ADRIAN DENNIS/ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadians slow to join mobile web browsing trend Add to ...

For years, tech trend watchers have said Canadians are glued to their computers like no others, spending more time on the Internet and watching more online video than any web surfers in the world.

That hasn't changed yet, but it appears Canadians are increasingly getting their web fix another way and will continue to do so in 2012.

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After years of watching web use on desktop and laptop computers steadily climb in Canada, the growth is finally starting to slow, says Bryan Segal, vice president of the measurement firm comScore.

But Canadians are hardly getting bored of the web, they're just accessing it more and more through mobile phones, tablets and even televisions.

“I don't think interaction with digital is plateauing, I think it's just extending across different platforms and devices,” says Mr. Segal.

“And I think we're still in our infancy of mobile. We're going to be reaching the epicentre (of the trend) in 2012 and the beginning of 2013.”

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, there were more than 25.5 million mobile phone subscribers at the end of the third quarter of this year, up by almost one million since the beginning of 2011.

Mr. Segal estimates that about 40 per cent of Canada's mobile users have already made the upgrade to a smartphone like a BlackBerry, iPhone or Google Android device, which are far more sophisticated than older models, known in the industry as feature phones. That's a fast adoption rate compared to other nations, but Canadians still lag when it comes to using the Internet on their mobile phones, according to comScore.

In August, only about 4.4 per cent of Internet traffic was going through non-computer devices like phones, tablets or TVs in Canada, compared to 7.2 per cent in Singapore, 6.8 per cent in the U.S. and U.K., 5.8 per cent in Japan and 5.3 per cent in Australia. The share of mobile traffic in Canada was less than half the amount seen in those countries, with the exception of Australia.

Research by the CWTA in March suggests not even a third of all Canadian mobile users were using the Internet on their phones, but smartphone users were far more likely to be going online. Almost three quarters of smartphone owners had used the web.

Social media use on mobiles is also still fairly undeveloped in Canada, according to comScore stats from March. Only about one in four Canadian mobile users were on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, while rates were higher in the U.S. (28 per cent) and the U.K. (31 per cent).

But Mr. Segal expects mobile usage will spike in 2012, largely because of how phones are sold here. On average, Canadians own a phone longer than others around the world, mostly because our carriers ask customers to sign three-year contracts in exchange for subsidized hardware prices. Mr. Segal says expiring contracts will lead to a flood of new smartphone owners in the next year or two. And current smartphone owners aren't likely to go back to a feature phone.

Still, feature phones probably aren't going extinct in the immediate future, he adds.

“What people seem to forget ... is there's still 60 per cent of all subscribers in Canada who use feature phones and at the end of the day, we definitely do see people who view feature phones as valuable.”

According to comScore, price is still the top factor for most Canadians when it comes to shopping for a new phone and feature phones are a cheaper option.

Consumers told comScore the cost of monthly service was their most important consideration when shopping for a phone, followed by network quality, price of the unit and price for a data plan. The operating system of the phone ranked sixth on the list, the selection of apps ranked eighth and social networking features ranked 11th.

As price conscious as we might be, we're also clearly enamoured with expensive tablets.

Both the CWTA and the Media Technology Monitor, a product of CBC/Radio-Canada, estimated that five per cent of the population already had a tablet as of this spring, suggesting there could be in the neighbourhood of two million units across the country.

Results from an MTM survey found 88 per cent of tablet owners said they would definitely or probably recommend their device to friends and family, while only five per cent said they probably would not, and three per cent said they definitely would not.

MTM is forecasting that tablet ownership will double in 2012 with about 10 per cent of Canadians projected to own one.

Another trend Mr. Segal expects will grow in 2012 is the use of online video to supplement – and in a minority of cases supplant – TV viewing.

Canada was already a world leader in the consumption of online video before stats from this spring showed viewing habits had grown another 37 per cent over the previous six months. About 90 per cent of Canada's web population were watching video online, compared to 84 per cent in the U.S. and 81 per cent in the U.K. There were about 5.6 billion online videos viewed in March running a total of 388 million hours. The average Canadian web user was viewing 251 videos a month for a total of 17.3 hours of watching, compared to 204 videos at 15 hours in the U.S.

And those figures didn't include Netflix, which now has one million customers in Canada. According to MTM, after just six months in Canada, more than six in 10 people had heard of the service and those who used it, used it a lot.

About 40 per cent said they connected at least once a week and 30 per cent said they used it daily. Netflix subscribers reported they watched an average of about 13.3 hours of TV a week, which is about four less than the typical TV watcher's 17.6 hours.

Mr. Segal says for most people, online viewing isn't replacing the time they spend in front of a TV. But the trends we've seen in 2011 are just the start of how Internet-based TV will take off in the future, he adds.

“What we're seeing is people are watching (TV) across both platforms and it's not a fight for eyeballs but really an opportunity for increased viewing. And I think that reality has definitely come into place in the last year.”

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