Spam doesn't lie: American consumers desert PCs for most mundane chore

Two-thirds of 'brand marketing messages' were opened in Q4 on a smartphone or tablet as another task flees the personal computer

Traditional PCs were used at historically low rates last quarter to open emails, another sign that a long-time task of those notebooks and desktops has been hijacked by mobile devices, an email-centric firm said today.

U.S. consumers used a traditional personal computer to open only about a third of all the spam email they received, with the task shifting more to mobile, a marketing vendor reported. (Image: Movable Ink.)

According to Movable Ink, while bills itself as an email marketing technology vendor, Americans opened just 35% of "brand marketing messages" they received in the last three months of 2013 on a personal computer. That was a record low in Moveable Ink's tracking, down from 39% the previous quarter.

Movable Ink's "brand marketing messages" is a euphemism for what most dub "spam," whether opt-in promotions or unsolicited junk.

As PCs, a category that included both Windows- and OS X-powered machines, declined in usage for the job, mobile devices took up the slack.

Almost two-thirds of all marketing emails (65%) were opened on smartphones and tablets in 2013's final quarter, up from 61% the quarter before, said Movable Ink. Smartphones accounted for 48% and tablets the remaining 17%.

Among mobile device operating systems, Apple's iOS was the clear leader; over 50% of all email was opened on an iPhone or iPad, with the breakdown between them better than 2-to-1 in the iPhone's favor.

Android was a distant second, opening about 14% of the spam, an increase, Movable Ink said, from 10% in 2013's third quarter. Like iOS, Android leaned heavily toward smartphones, but even more so: While Android-powered smartphones accounted for 12.5% of the total, Android tablets represented just 1.9%.

Microsoft's Windows Phone, Amazon's forked-Android Kindle, and BlackBerry were almost insignificant at 0.2%, 0.1%, and 0.02%, respectively.

Movable Ink's data doesn't hint at market share or the installed base of Android or iOS, statistics many fixate on, but like the Web usage metrics provided by vendors such as StatCounter and Net Applications, points out the swing toward mobile for common, even mundane chores that were once the purview of PCs.

"Consumers are rapidly moving from desktops to mobile devices when it comes to opening and interacting with brand marketing emails," Movable Ink said in a short report ( download PDF) issued Wednesday. "Smartphones and tablets aren't just dominating over desktops, but have shown consistent quarter-over-quarter growth."

Movable Ink's numbers shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone following the consumer PC industry's woes over the last two years. Overall, PC shipments in the U.S. declined 3.6% in 2013 compared to the year before, according to researcher IDC. But shipments targeting consumer buyers decreased much more than that, said IDC, without offering a number.

"Even the holiday shopping season was unable to inspire a turn in consumer spending," wrote IDC analyst Loren Loverde in a note two weeks ago.

As most analysts and pundits have proclaimed, the shrinking consumer personal computer market is most likely due to users spending more time with smartphones and tablets -- as Movable Ink's data suggested -- and as a result see little reason to upgrade their current PCs or Macs, even very old ones running outdated or nearly-retired operating systems.

Spam, in this case, seems to be telling the truth.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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