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Habits make smartphone use more pervasive


Examining several sources of data on smartphone use, this paper presents evidence for the popular conjecture that mobile devices are “habit-forming.” The form of habits we identified is called a checking habit: brief, repetitive inspection of dynamic content quickly accessible on the device. We describe findings on kinds and frequencies of checking behaviors in three studies. We found that checking habits occasionally spur users to do other things with the device and may increase usage overall. Data from a controlled field experiment show that checking behaviors emerge and are reinforced by informational “rewards” that are very quickly accessible. Qualitative data suggest that although repetitive habitual use is frequent, it is experienced more as an annoyance than an addiction. We conclude that supporting habit-formation is an opportunity for making smartphones more “personal” and “pervasive.”

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    Different temporal thresholds were used for the laptop and smartphone data. The thresholds (29 s session duration for the laptop data and 24 s for smartphone data) were chosen because they are the median 20th percentile session durations in the respective data sets. Equivalent results were achieved with other threshold values.


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Correspondence to Antti Oulasvirta.

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Oulasvirta, A., Rattenbury, T., Ma, L. et al. Habits make smartphone use more pervasive. Pers Ubiquit Comput 16, 105–114 (2012).

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  • Smartphones
  • Habits
  • Logging data
  • Diary studies