The humble smartphone became a focal point for people’s lives during a challenging year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, as UK consumers made more calls, messages and social media posts.

A new nationwide study by telecoms company Three Mobile has found that mobile devices acted as a primary coping mechanism during stressful periods of a tumultuous 2020.

Over the year, 4.7m phones were gifted to help friends and family to stay connected, and more than a third of the 2,000 respondents admitted that they relied on these devices to maintain a social life.

While messaging apps are synonymous with younger generations, it was actually older people who were more likely to seek out new ways to connect with others virtually.

Smartphone usage was widespread though and significant as, on average, there were an additional 364 WhatsApp messages, 156 calls and 104 social media posts sent or shared this year, compared to 2019.

However, Three marketing director Aislinn O’Conner said that its report showed that mobiles are now “far more” than a communications device.

This is evidenced by the fact that almost 11 million people used their mobile phones for virtual quizzes during the lockdown, while 81% and 62% used them for keeping up with news developments and shopping online, respectively.

Getting out and about at least once a day for exercise was also important, and 35% of respondents said that they used their devices to track daily step counts.

Psychologist Honey Langcaster-James concluded: “The greatest thing about the research is that it shows how the nation has stood strong and creatively found ways to stay connected to loved ones.”