Upward Mobility

After presenting the results of our latest report on technology and media at the Higher Ed Tech Summit at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, I spent the bulk of the plane ride back from sunny Las Vegas to snowy New York contemplating the changes that have occurred since the last time we measured these same topics just 12 months ago.

Youth spend a large portion of their day on the move, which tends to give portable devices more use than stationary ones. Teens and collegians alike have significant daily use of cell phones, laptops, MP3 players and the associated headphones that have gone from commodities to personalized fashion accessories, thanks to Monster Cable, Skull Candy, et al.

Teens have slightly more permanence in their lives than collegians, which means they are slightly more tolerant of stationary devices (TVs, Desktop PCs and video game consoles) than their older cohorts, however, youth in general are rapidly becoming more mobile-centric over time and they are demanding more of their devices to carry more capabilities, more processing power and to perform more functions than ever before.



Let's begin with the center of Gen Y's mobile universe -- the mobile phone. While more than nine out of 10 members of Gen Y carry a mobile phone, the percentage of kids that have a smartphone has increased from the low thirties to the mid-forties in just the past year. If you look at collegians in particular, smartphones have reached the tipping point wherein more than 50% of current collegians have a smartphone that can do a whole lot more than simply text and talk.

While nine out of 10 of those with mobile phones use them for the basic functions of texting and talking, the next most used function is taking photos, practiced by eight out of ten mobile-equipped members of Gen Y. Subsequently sharing these photos via their mobile device is common practice by nearly seven out of ten members of Gen Y who capture the moment and share what they're seeing with their friends.

Indeed, this generation is so dedicated to visually connecting and sharing the world around them that the next credible challenger to Facebook might well be, the picture-based social network developed by Napster founder Sean Fanning. If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, might make a dent in the big blue monolith that has ballooned to a valuation of $50 billion dollars.

Half of those equipped with a mobile device use it to update their status on this and other social networks and nearly half use it to browse the Internet. Interestingly, the power of music is less heavily subscribed than the power of pictures, indicating that Mr. Fanning's nose is pointed in the right direction. Slightly more than four out of 10 members of Gen Y who have a mobile phone use it to listen to music.

In addition to ending the necessity to carry around a digital camera, the mobile phone is poised to gobble up a number of other portable devices. Nearly four out of 10 members of Gen Y use their mobile phones to shoot videos and a similar number use it to play video games. In an interesting inversion, portable gaming devices have slid in ownership and use over the past year as mobile phone-based games have increased.

And there are a myriad of other capabilities that are in use by Gen Y that will threaten even more devices: reading and sending email, geo-positioning, watching video, reading eBooks and making purchases have all increased in usage over the past year. When Satoru Iwata, the CEO of Nintendo, is asked what keeps him up at night, he doesn't miss a beat when he says that the iPhone causes him more insomnia than any other issue. I'm sure his insomnia is shared by the CEOs of Casio, Canon, Sony, Garmin and many more firms that see the smartphone as their greatest strategic threat.

My New Year's resolution for 2011 is for us to absolutely and unequivocally nail our mobile interactions with the more than 75,000 teens and collegians that participate in the online research community that drives our syndicated and custom research efforts. If you like a good night's rest, you, too, may want to make this year wherein you seek to leverage the potential for smartphones to generate more opportunity than insomnia.

1 comment about "Upward Mobility ".
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  1. Byron Wolt from Speak to Students, January 16, 2011 at 12:26 a.m.

    Great information. Students are on the move and so are their parents as they try to keep up with their mobile youth. However, if you can meet them where they are - schools - with relevant and useful information that is above and beyond what you want to sell them, you can have their undivided attention (relatively undivided attention anyway!) and better direct students to where you want them to be.

    Thanks for the article.

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