When Wikipedia began in 2001, desktop PCs were the dominant device for web access. However, a lot has changed in the last 10 years with the growth of the mobile web and the introduction of a new class of devices like digital music players, smartphones and tablets. As we are ready to step into 2012, we find that readers are consuming Wikipedia across a gamut of devices – desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, gaming devices and so on. In this blog post, we share insights about the devices on which readers consume Wikipedia content.
a. Only 21% of our readers have read Wikipedia on their mobile phone
While more than 85% of readers own a mobile phone in 12 of the 16 countries, only 21% have ever used their phone to access Wikipedia. Among current readers, the US (31%) and the UK (30%) lead in mobile Wikipedia readership, though Mexico (27%) also reported higher usage.
Only about a fourth of our current readers who own mobile phones have accessed Wikipedia on them. In addition, the relatively low cost and easy availability of mobile phones mean that they are used by a lot of people, even in the Global South. Hence, we believe that the mobile platform has the biggest opportunity for growth of Wikipedia readership. We are hoping that we’ll be able to attract new readers through the revamp of our mobile platform to enhance reading and search (and even introduce some editing functionalities). We are also developing Wikipedia Zero – a lightweight, text only version of our mobile site optimized for slower connections, and available to readers at zero rate or zero cost.
b. Smartphones are a significant opportunity for Wikipedia growth
42% of Wikipedia readers own a smartphone with the most prominent shares coming from developed countries. Among smartphone owners, only 65% said that they had read Wikipedia on their mobile compared to 19% of feature phone owners.
For countries with fewer smartphone owners, the intent to purchase one within the next year is significantly higher than for countries currently leading smartphone owners. However, Japan is unique among developed countries. Most Japanese readers own a basic phone (used for calls & texts only), and very few of them are interested in buying a smartphone. This is especially true when they are compared to other countries with lower smartphone penetration. Smartphone interest is particularly high in the Global South – almost two-thirds of our readers in Brazil, India and Mexico plan to buy smartphones in the next year.
c. Most of our readers have a positive opinion of mobile Wikipedia
Among mobile readers, more than a third mentioned that the mobile experience on Wikipedia’s site was better than other mobile content sites, and 56% pointed out that it was about the same as other mobile content.
Readers in most countries convey that Wikipedia is meeting their overall expectations for a mobile experience. Readers in the US (53%), India (53%) and Mexico (51%) rated Wikipedia mobile more favorably than other content they access on their mobile, whereas readers in Poland (23%) were much more likely to rate it worse than other content.
d. Wikipedia Mobile is the most popular smartphone app
Among smartphone users, 41% have used a Wikipedia app. The number one Wikipedia app is Wikipedia Mobile (14%) – our official iPhone app. Wikipedia Mobile is the most popular app across countries, despite the fact that it is only available on the iPhone. Among smartphone owners, Wikipedia Mobile is more popular in the US (20%), Mexico (21%) and India (20%). We are currently working on bringing the app to Android devices, to broaden the app’s reach to more readers, especially in the Global South, where low-cost Android phones are more common.
e. Desktops remain most widely used device for reading Wikipedia
Despite the increasing popularity of laptops, tablets and smartphones across the globe, desktop computers are still the most widely used for reading Wikipedia articles. In fact, 85% of our readers own desktops – and almost 90 % of those read Wikipedia on them.
f. 21% of US Wikipedia readers have read Wikipedia on a tablet
Lastly, the growing popularity of tablets means that many people consume Wikipedia content on them. Overall, 7% of respondents said that they had read Wikipedia on a tablet at least once, but only 1% read it primarily on a tablet. The only country with a significant number of tablet readers is the US (21%), though even here, only 1% read primarily on tablets. In the ethnographic research that we conducted in the US, we found tablets are being used as a companion device for reading Wikipedia. While tablets aren’t completely cannibalizing laptop/desktop readership, readers are turning to them because they are mobile, and faster to use for browsing.
The insights from this study on device usage are one of the building blocks towards providing a good and consistent Wikipedia experience across devices. Our ethnographic research suggests that readers consume Wikipedia on different devices, and they are looking for porting their reading habits and history across devices. Moving forward, we’ll be looking into new ways of providing an improved cross-device experience.
We recently conducted an online survey of Wikipedia readers, limited to 250 participants each in 16 countries. This is the fifth in a series of blog posts summarizing our findings. If you are interested, you can find out more about the methodology of the survey here.