There have been few products or technical advances that have had as far reaching an impact as the smartphone. The modern era started with Blackberry and Treo, which soon gave way to the iPhone and various Android and Windows models. The Pew Research Center just completed a comprehensive study of how Americans use their smartphones and the results shed light on how Boomers (50-64) are using these devices. Overall, 64% of American adults own a smartphone, up from just 35% in 2011, and 2014 was the first year that the majority of access to the Internet was via mobile platforms.
Looking at the age breakouts, a few things become clear about Boomer smartphone usage. Among them, 54% own smartphones, only 10 points behind the overall adult population. While Boomer phone owners are behind 18-29 (85%) and 30-49 (79%), they have passed the critical 50% mark, and it is easy to see how that will rise over the next few years. Among Boomer smartphone owners: 94% make calls, 92% text, 87% use email, 80% access the internet, and a smaller number access social media (55%), videos (31%) and music (21%).
Any lingering perception that the 50+ populations is not using mobile devices to communicate can be put to rest at the same time there is room to grow for their usage of social, video and music. Boomers are active, but lagging behind the younger groups when it comes to activities such using a smartphone for: accessing information about a health issue (39%), online banking (34%), real estate info (26%), and government services (29%). Boomers are much closer to younger generations when it comes using smartphones to access breaking news (61%), sharing info about local events (60%) and learn about community events (45%).
What are telling are the attitude questions about how the different age groups “feel” about their smartphone. One of the reasons marketers love smartphones is the emotional connection consumers have with them. They go everywhere with us, home, work, commute, coffee shop, sporting events, vacation etc. Marketers have multiple opportunities to engage prospects and customers in a somewhat intimate setting. The study presented sets of opposing terms to gauge how smartphone owners felt about their relationship with their device. Overall, 70% of owners feel that their smartphone represents “Freedom” vs. a “Leash,” however, the 50+ groups are more likely to feel it represents Freedom – 78%. A third of Millennials feel their phone is a “Leash” while only 21% of Boomers feel that way.
The majority (72%) of owners feel that their smartphone is “Connecting vs. Distracting.” Again, Boomers felt stronger in the positive than the younger groups. Some 37% of 18-29 said their phone was distracting, only 18% of 50+ said the same. There was no difference in age groups among people using their phones in a car or mass transit, or within a public place like a park or coffee shop.
The bottom line is that Boomers have fully embraced the mobile revolution and have a very healthy attitude towards their smartphones. They see them representing freedom and being connected to others and use them more for utility than for entertainment. Unlike younger generations, they have less anxiety about always being connected and the dreaded “fear of missing out.” Perhaps Boomers have a more balanced approach to using their smartphone and keep it limited to certain apps and situations. No matter the reason, the myth of 50+ consumers not being mobile engaged is a shattered.