Gadget census chart

2010 gadget census

Every ten years the Government conducts a census, we thought it might be interesting to see what gadgets UK consumers have in their households.

Society has become more gadget-obsessed over the last ten years - and if you want proof of this, check the stats. Ten years ago, the Web was exploding, clamshell mobile phones were getting smaller, and you could navigate your virtual aircraft airily over the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on Microsoft Simulator for Windows. Bill Gates was considered an evil multi-billionaire by some and Steve Jobs wasn't considered either by anyone.

We were gadget-obsessed even back then. The typical household was accumulating more and more TVs. The increase in satellite and cable viewing had meant that teenagers would be less inclined to watch with the family, and more inclined to hole themselves up in their rooms with their own portable sets.

The PC would be a large hulk of a machine with a noisy hard drive, a large CRT display and if it was the only one in the house (as it usually would be), it would reside in the living room - and its primary function would be email and word processing. Browsing would be a chore thanks to dial-up Internet connections, which tied up the telephone line.

The only radios that were available were analogue - technology that had changed little in decades. Homes had several radios - either as standalone devices or incorporated into body-building ghetto blasters, alarm clock radios and hi-fi units.

If the phone line was tied up, you may have been the lucky adult in your household who had a mobile device. Back then people used them to talk to one another. Although beginning to become mainstream - thanks to prepay talk plans - mobiles were relatively expensive and WAP Internet hardly made these phones smart.

In fact, other than computing or CDs, digital was still a rarity with cameras, video cassette recorders and audio cassettes binding us to an analogue century, with its magnetic tape and film.

Excluding white goods, the typical household would have about 19 consumer electronic devices (excluding white goods) in the home. Today, that number has increased to almost 30.

How we compare

What are we, now ten years into the century, buying more of? Across the board, we are investing in more devices across all categories. But PCs and mobile phone usage has increased the most with the iPod generation helping to grow the media player category from virtually nothing in 2000 to the typical household owning three devices.

Personal computers are no longer huge devices making a dusty, wiry no-man's land of one corner of the front room. More or less every adult and young person can move from room to room thanks to their portable and wireless-ready laptop connected to the ubiquitous broadband Internet.

Mobile phone usage has seen a steady increase. How we use our phones has also changed dramatically - with smartphones gaining popularity among all age groups. We are just as likely to use our mobile devices for sending data as voice. Regulator Ofcom's seventh annual report revealed that in 2009 alone data traffic rose by 240 per cent as more of us switch over to 3G-capable devices.

In fact, there are more mobile phones than there are people in the UK. In our figures we have excluded mobile phones used in business, but there is still on average three mobile phones per household. This is surprising when you consider that, according to the latest UK published household survey in 2007, there are only 2.35 people residing in each house. This said, the very young and the very old are still unlikely to have a mobile phone.

After the extraordinary improvements in printing technology leading up to the year 2000, we typically still only have one printer per household. This is despite the fact we have more personal computer devices in the home. Most modern printers - inkjet and laser - can be added to the wireless network allowing multiple computers to use it as a single resource. But the volume of printing may decline as we view more documents electronically, but the pundits have made this prediction before.

According to research company Context, HP is the favoured brand in UK households with almost 40 per cent of the market. Context's 2010 figures suggest that sales of printers remain steady. However, the big shift is that we are replacing single-function printers with combined devices that serve as scanners and digital photocopiers. Sales of multifunction devices were up by 12.1 per cent in for the first half of 2010 while single-function devices are in a steep decline.

Radios also remain popular, but it is striking that, despite being available for more than ten years and the UK being a pioneer in this area, only 15 per cent of radios within households are DAB. Indeed, the UK government has put back the switchover - planned for 2015 - on hold to see first if take-up improves.

Cameras remain popular - despite the fact that mobile devices are increasingly incorporating camera and video functionality. We still love our cameras and taking pictures. Film has evaporated in the face of digital technology, but few images are printed. Social networking sites have become a big driver for digital camera ownership.

According to figures from industry watchers IDC, film camera sales began their steep decline in 2001 when they were falling by about 20 per cent a year until virtually nothing in 2007. Film is now a very niche product.

With digital downloads taking over from CDs, the stereo is another device that increasingly looks out of place in many living rooms. Shelves and towered stacks of CDs are disappearing as more people store music on computers and media players.

According to the music industry body, the BPI, CD sales fell by 8 per cent in 2009 alone. In the past year, UK music retailers Zavvi and Woolworths disappeared from high streets and HMV is diversifying into games and multimedia entertainment - explaining why media docks are more sought after.

Death of analogue tech?

Sony's domination of the late 20th century with its Walkman personal cassette player has been more than matched by Apple's iPod. Some 275 million iPods have been sold since the first product was launched in 2001.

Video cassette recorders were still common ten years ago. However, in the early part of the noughties they were phased out and replaced by DVD players. Major retailers such as Dixons stopped selling them in 2004. However, now the DVD player market is now expected to decline rapidly as consumers are expected to upgrade to HD-capable Blu-ray players or may be even ditch optical technology completely and just rely on the time shifting capabilities of the their DVRs which are often incorporated into the set-top boxes provide by their cable or satellite provider.

Telephony is of course a major area of development. The landline is still available in the typical UK household, but cordless digital handsets are fairly ubiquitous with most households having more than one.

In 2000, you may have been among the minority of households zapping aliens or cartoon characters on consoles such as the original Playstation or the Nintendo 64. The games market has also grown significantly - with top titles now competing with the box office receipts of major Hollywood action flicks.

Industry figures from GfK ChartTrack, which monitors sales of hardware, underline how the video games industry has become mainstream entertainment for many families. In 2008, sales of video games overtook sales of music, and an increasing number of people - especially women and older consumers - are being won round by a new generation of more gentle, cerebral games. Nintendo pioneered this revival with the motion controlled Wii.

The wireless networked home and Web is a huge driver for the consumer electronics industry and will continue to be in the current decade.

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