The first iPhone was announced and hit shelves way back in 2007—before the term “Gen Z” had taken hold—launching the world into an era of always-on digital connectivity. Fast-forward nearly a decade and the iPhone is still the gold standard of smartphones, despite vastly increased competition in the industry. There is little question that young adults have a favorable opinion of the iPhone and Apple products: Apple is the brand of the Millennial generation largely due to its sleek design. They’re excited for the release of the iPhone 7 with many citing it as their most desired tech device, but as true digital natives, Gen Z teens have different expectations of technology than their peers do. Belonging to a highly pragmatic generation of savvy consumers, for tech to be cool, it needs to function flawlessly, and for a tech brand to be cool, it needs to be innovative.
Teens have a high opinion of both Apple and Google. As one 16-year-old guy explained in qualitative research, “Each brand revolutionized technology as we know it.” The value of innovation can’t be underestimated among teen consumers: 91% say it is an important quality for a brand or company to have, ranking lower than only good customer service and affordability, according to our research. Today’s youth have come of age in a time of continual rapid innovation, not only in media and technology but also in lifestyle thanks to meal delivery services and affordable travel solutions that let them live like a local. They have the ultimate respect for brands that can identify areas for improvement and that help make their lives easier and better.
To that point, functionality and compatibility are driving their continued appreciation of the iPhone. Their expectation is that tech should simply work and be glitch free. That has led to their preference for Apple products over Android products. Another 16-year-old girl explained, “I have an Android, which, while fully adequate, still has incompatibility issues. Many apps that my peers have are not available to me. I can’t use iMessage.” When lack of functionality and compatibility prevent young people from connecting and interacting with their friends, they see that as a failure on the part of the device and brand. According to a 17-year-old guy, “Messaging is ubiquitous. It's universally agreed upon that it's irritating to have a non-iMessage group chat.” On the flip side, those that increase their level of connectivity and closeness with their friends—such as iMessage to Snapchat—are among their most loved brands.
While the device and brand are critical to teens, so is the content that tech brings to them. Their excitement for the iPhone 7 is diminished because they feel the lack of a headphone jack will cut them off from access to their music, which is a critical component of their lives. Fully 83% of teens say it’s important to them to stay up-to-date on music, ranking higher than any other form of media. One 17-year-old girl told us that her dream device would be an iPhone 7 with a headphone jack. It’s critical to teens because of the myriad ways that they want to listen to their music. The teens we spoke to noted how they can’t listen in the car anymore, can’t charge their phones while listening, and they can’t use their favorite headphones with the device.
Brands can take lessons from teens’ assessment of technology because their expectations for innovation and ease of use extends beyond that category. They look to all companies to make their lives easier and better through their products and services. A large part of that is that those products or services simply function smoothly, and they’re willing to pay more for those that deliver. One 17-year-old guy mentioned Beats headphones as one such example, adding, “When someone wears Beats, it shows they care about having the best,” demonstrating that they consider the brands they associate themselves with as a reflection on them personally, making such decisions even more important. The same goes for associating themselves with a brand that is innovative, which provides them with cool cachet as a result.