Brits have lost more than 98,000,000 smartphones since 2007, according to new research from Mobiles.co.uk. The smartphone retailer has published the results of a survey it conducted in May, finding that the average UK adult has lost two smartphones so far in their lifetime. And it’s the 25-34 age group that loses their mobiles most frequently, despite–or perhaps because of–using them more often.
Based on a previous YouGov poll which found that 74% of the UK’s population are smartphone owners, Mobiles.co.uk calculated that 98,324,688 smartphones have been lost by every adult in the UK. Its survey also revealed the six places in which people are likeliest to lose their phones:
- In a bar or restaurant (24%)
- On public transport (24%)
- Out in a public area, such as a park or the street (23%)
- In the house (17%)
- At a friend’s house (5%)
- At the gym (3%)
People aged between 25 and 34 have on average lost three smartphones in their lives up until now, which works out at losing one every three years if you happen to be 25 and received your first phone at the age of 16.
Previous surveys from YouGov have indicated that millennials and younger adults spend “too much” time with their phones and even feel anxiety when separated from them. Combined with Mobiles.co.uk’s survey results, this (somewhat ironically) implies that the more people use their smartphones, the more likely they are to lose them. It also implies that even potential anxiety isn’t enough to make millennials take greater care of their phones.
By contrast, 86% of over-65s have lost only one smartphone over the course of their lives. Again, this counter-intuitively indicates that the less attached you are to your smartphone, the less likely you are to lose it. Perhaps not viewing your smartphone as an extension of your own self may help you keep track of it. In other words, your perception of it as something entirely separate from you may help you to be more conscious of where it actually is.
Or more simply, going out less may provide people with fewer opportunities to lose their mobiles.
Loss Boosts The Smartphone Industry
Even if the actual number of lost smartphones falls noticeably short of 98,000,000, Mobiles.co.uk survey raises an interesting point about the smartphone industry.
Up until now, most commentators have assumed that built-in obsolescence is the main reason why people regularly buy new smartphones. However, a big part of the explanation may be a little more prosaic: many people are simply losing their smartphones, forcing them to buy a new(er) model.
In the UK, 52 million iPhones were purchased between 2011 and 2019, with Apple’s market share hovering between 26.5% in 2011, 39.9% in 2016, and 36.9% in 2019. Calculating an average percentage over these nine years of 34.2%, this would also indicate that Brits purchased roughly 152 million Android smartphones between 2011 and 2019.
This means as many as 64.5% of the phones purchased in the UK between 2011 and 2019 were bought as replacements for lost devices. Admittedly, smartphones were first launched in 2007, so the actual percentage is likely to be lower (since devices are also likely to have been lost between 2007 and 2011). Similarly, around 7% of lost smartphones are likely to be recovered, according to a 2016 survey conducted in the US by Kensington.
However, this same Kensington survey indicated that, as of 2016, 70 million smartphones are lost each year in the US. With smartphone sales increasing each year in America, the current annual loss is likely to be bigger. So regardless of the exact figure, lost smartphones will account for a significant percentage of annual mobile sales in the US, as they do in the UK and likely elsewhere.
In some ways, this shouldn’t be surprising, given how fallible human beings are. On the other hand, it’s quite astounding that the fortunes of companies such as Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei and others are actually predicated on sheer human carelessness and irresponsibility. We don’t look after our phones well enough and we take them too much for granted. As a result, we unnecessarily transfer billions of dollars to multinational corporations.
Phrasing this differently, smartphone manufacturers aren’t profiting only from manufacturing useful devices. They’re also profiting from our inability to keep our smartphones in the same place and to put them back in that place once we’ve finished using them. This has inadvertently become part of their business model.
To help avoid this, Mobiles.co.uk’s mobile expert Karl Middleton recommends making use of the Find my Phone apps available for iOS and Android smartphones. He also recommends becoming more mindful of what you’re doing with your phone.
He says, “We hope by revealing just how many phones are currently lost in the UK and where most people are misplacing them, people become more aware of where they are leaving their handsets in the future and think about what they can do to keep them a little safer.”