Top 5 Trends in Mobile Surveys – Surveys for Smartphones

Mobile optimized surveys make it easier for respondents to participate on their smartphones.

Each year, many millions of respondent surveys are hosted on our online survey platform, Decipher. This gives us unprecedented access to respondent survey-taking behaviors and allows us to constantly investigate the latest survey trends.

Here are the top trends we’ve seen in mobile surveys over the last year:

Trend #1: Online survey starts with smartphone devices continue to grow

Closing out the end of 2015, the desktop share of survey starts eroded. Respondents are increasingly accessing online surveys via a smartphone device. Mobile devices (smartphone + tablet) now represent close to 30% of all survey starts.

Share of online survey starts between desktop, smartphone, and tablet between 2011 and 2015. Surveys for smartphones are on the rise.The device trend in online surveys follows the overall global trend of device usage. Industry analysts forecast smartphone subscriptions from 2015 will double to 6.4 billion worldwide by 2021.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, Device affordability and expanded network coverage have fueled this growth, making smartphones more accessible, especially in emerging markets. As well, smartphones are increasingly replacing the PC as the primary gateway to the internet. More powerful processors, thinner/lighter phones, and advances with 4G data speeds are contributing to this trend.

We can expect that the population of mobile survey takers will continue to grow in years to come.

Trend #2: The extent of mobile penetration depends on the sample source

The level of mobile survey participation depends on the sample characteristics. It is known, for instance, that in the US, minority groups, youths, and upper income individuals show an higher incidence of smartphone use. Whether a survey employs a panel sample or client supplied sample (e.g. list of customers) has a tremendous impact as well.

Share of online survey starts by device and sample type.When a client supplied list is used, more than a quarter of respondents access the survey using a smartphone; that number falls to 10% for panel respondents (Figure 2).

Panel supplied samples have traditionally had far fewer mobile survey takers. Many industry surveys are still not designed mobile-first. That’s why this population is conditioned to take surveys on a desktop for the better survey-user experience (i.e. larger screen size, mouse/keyboard input). But the number of mobile panel members is growing and has more than doubled since 2013.

Besides the increasing reliance on smartphone devices to access the internet,  the growing industry acceptance and deployment of smartphone-friendly survey designs are undoubtedly driving this trend.

Trend #3: Mobile friendly surveys equals improved participation rates

The market research industry is showing an increased focus on mobile friendly survey designs.

Smartphone surveys and their completion rates are rising in comparison to other devices such as desktop computers and tablets.Surveys that are designed with mobile-use in mind have shown improvements in participation rates over the years while participation rates for desktop users have remained stable.

Keep in mind our mobile trends data reflects Decipher client projects, and we’re constantly discussing best survey design practices for mobile devices and these have been tested and put to good use. By default all surveys hosted on the Decipher platform employ a responsive survey design and many, dynamic and mobile friendly question types are available to Decipher clients (e.g. card sort,  buttons).

Evolving smartphone technology may account for the increased participation rates as well. Smartphones screens have gotten larger (e.g. phablets) and data download speeds have improved.

Trend #4 Phablet use grows; mini tablets share is negligible

Phablets and mini-tablets have emerged as a new category of mobile devices. What do we know about surveys taking on those devices?

Phablets are smartphone devices with a display between 5 to 7 inches. A mini-tablet is a tablet with the size of a screen ranging from 7 to 9 inches. Phablet growth among Android users have doubled over the past year and now represent close to 14% of all Android phones. Smartphone buyers are seeking bigger screen sizes for consuming videos, online games, and other multimedia content.

Share of online survey starts by screen size.We’ve been following one of our client’s large VOC tracking surveys to get an idea of the size of the online survey population for these new categories of screen sizes. Since 2014, almost 1 million respondents clicked through this survey.

Figure 4 shows the share of online survey starts broken out by screen size. Phablet use has shown signs of growth moving into 2015, but the volume is still well short of the traditional under 5’ screen smartphone. Mini tablets represent a negligible portion of this study.

Trend #5: Screen size: User participation diminishes for devices smaller than a mini tablet.

Figure 5 shows survey participation rates by screen size from a VOC tracking study that was mobile-optimized.

Participation rates by screen size.Users of devices with screen sizes ranging from a mini tablet to desktop size appear to have similar participation rates. Slight dropoff occurs as screen sizes reach the 5-7 inch mark (phablets), and continues to decrease for under 5-inch devices.

The data points to an interesting finding: a survey respondent that uses anything smaller than a mini-tablet becomes more vulnerable to survey drop-off.

It’s tempting to conclude that the reason for this is because the smaller the screen, the poorer the survey-taking experience is. But we don’t know whether or not the mobile-friendly survey design simply did not go far enough to retain smartphone respondents. There are other influences on survey participation rates that we cannot discount either: for example, demographic differences between users of the devices; differences in how the devices are engaged (e.g. smartphone users are mobile, on-the-go).


Mobile survey participation rates have steadily improved. Researchers are adjusting to the needs of the growing usage for these devices while still encompassing traditional desktop users within survey research. What does that mean? Survey designs for mobile devices have gotten better and smarter.

Gone are the days where an online survey designed for the PC gets resized and served up on a smartphone without any regard for the smaller screen – leaving the respondent frustrated with tiny text, input buttons, or horizontal scales partially cut off from view.

A survey that is friendly and optimized across all platforms, means good data quality and respondent participation. If you heed the warnings and adhere to good survey design principles, research has shown you can feel pretty confident about the outcome of your surveys in today’s mobile world.

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