Smartphone User Survey: A glimpse into the mobile lives of college students
|More than half of college students are early adopters of smartphones, according to our national survey, but few take full advantage of many of the advanced features these phones have to offer.
Text messaging and checking e-mail are the most frequent uses of smartphones, which of course are simple tasks capable of being executed even on older feature phones. But young adults who own smartphones do use advanced features, and three-quarters of them use their devices for following news. Students don’t fully utilize the newest smartphone features at the level that we had expected. These powerful handheld computing devices are, for now, not overly taxed by their young owners.
Our findings demonstrate that mobile news design must take into account how young people — tomorrow’s mainstream news and media consumers — use their devices today, and accommodate these behaviors. But mobile-news providers also should expect potentially rapid shifts in user behavior in the future, and be ready to adjust accordingly.
As traditional news organizations struggle to retain audiences and emerging news entities try to attract more users, it is essential that they adapt to the latest technologies to keep people interested in news. This most certainly is the case for younger people, whose media behavior today is an indicator of what the news industry must learn to accommodate now and into the future.
In order to gain a better understanding of student smartphone use, a survey was administered to 517 students at the University of Colorado and several other colleges and universities around the U.S. From this group, 272 (53%) students owned a smartphone and 242 (47%) owned a feature phone. …
A visit to most any campus in the U.S. will confirm that the majority of college students rely on their mobile phones. Closer student observation will reveal that smartphones are gaining ground over older feature phones, as is mirrored in the larger marketplace (see the Market Overview chapter of this report). This survey of campus mobile-phone users found that 53% owned a smartphone, as compared to 47% that owned a feature phone.
The In-depth News for Smartphones team chose to survey college students to learn more about their behavior and preferences in using smartphones, as an indicator of future mainstream consumer mobile behavior and to offer guidance for news providers hoping to attract young adults today.
Source: Digital Media Test Kitchen
Question: What brand of smartphone do you use? (see full question)
Students use a variety of smartphones. The Apple iPhone was the most popular with 40% of those who reported owning a smartphone using one of the iPhone models (n=109). Other types of smartphones used include RIM Blackberry with 26% (n=71); Android operating system based phones with 22% (n=60); Windows operating system phones with 8% (n=22); and Palm with 4% (n=10).
Analysis: Compared to smartphone sales figures for all ages in the U.S. market, college students lean more toward Apple’s iPhone. According to Q1 2010 estimates from the NPD Group, a market research company, smartphone sales overall put RIM Blackberry in the lead with 36% market share, followed by Android phones with 28% and then Apple with 21% . Outside of the college-age demographic, Blackberry smartphones continue to be strong for business people. The growing number of Android-based phones has moved that platform ahead of the iPhone among all smartphone buyers. Obviously, rapid technological development can see these figures shift quickly, for college-age phone users as well as all users.
Question: What percentage of a news article do you typically read on your smartphone?… (see full questions)
When students choose to consume different types of media on their smartphones, they tend to do so in small amounts. When reading text news articles, 56% (n=153) of students read less than the first three paragraphs, and 72% (n=197) read 25% of a story or less. For video news stories, 79% (n=216) typically watch 59 seconds or less of each video, while for audio news reports, 81% (n=220) listen to 30 seconds or less of audio.
Analysis: While this might lead one to suspect that smartphones, with their small screens, are not a good medium for news presentation beyond short articles and brief snippets of video and audio, other research indicates similar short attention spans on other media platforms. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has reported consistent short attention span behavior of most PC Web site users , and the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack studies of newspaper print editions and news Web sites over the last decade find similar reader/user behavior  . Naturally, high interest by a news consumer in the specific topic of an article, video, or audio report results in more of the content being consumed on non-mobile media platforms . Unfortunately, additional study is needed to determine if such personal interest leads to increased consumption through reading, viewing, or listening on a smartphone.
Question: Excluding voice calls, how often do you use your smartphone in these situations? (see full question)
Students use their smartphones in many situations. On a regular basis, 93% (n=253) of students use their smartphones while riding in a bus, train, or car; 92% (n=253) use it during idle time at work or school; 85% (n=228) use it while waiting in line (grocery store, coffee shop checkout, etc.); 82% (n=223) use it for school-related tasks; and 77% (n=208) use it when they first wake up in the morning, while 72% (n=195) use it before they go to sleep.
Analysis: Examining the most frequent situations where students use their smartphones (other than for voice calls), news providers can find justification for publishing short-form content, and perhaps some hope for long-form content. Frequent smartphone use while waiting in line is most suitable for scanning the news. High usage during transit (bus, train, passenger in car) gives some smartphone users time for reading or viewing longer news content, if the topic is compelling enough to hold their interest. But transit (in 2010) typically means time away from fast wi-fi connections for smartphones and reliance on slower 3G or older carrier connections. News providers wishing to convince students to view in-depth content might consider bandwidth-light content (i.e., mostly text) or enabling off-line consumption of “heavier” content packages containing multimedia. High usage of smartphones at waking and before sleep is encouraging, both for quick-view news scanning and for the potential of attracting more consumption of in-depth news. But the hard reality in 2010, when this survey was conducted, is that college students mostly stick to short-form content when using their smartphones.
Question: Multitasking: Excluding voice calls, how often do you use your smartphone while simultaneously doing other activities? (see full question)
Students use smartphones while multitasking and doing another task such as watching TV, listening to music, shopping, or walking. Students were asked how often they use their smartphone, excluding voice calls, while simultaneously doing other activities. While watching TV, 82% (n=223) use their smartphone on a regular basis, while 85% (n=231) use their smartphone regularly while listening to music. Similar trends were seen with walking, 84% (n=228), and shopping, 75% (n=204).
Analysis: The U.S. college population is comprised of people who mostly grew up with the Internet and digital technologies. Researchers already know that media multitasking is common among this generation , and that multitasking efficiency is limited by the nature of how the human brain processes information . For news providers wishing to capture the attention of students on their phones while involved in other activities, mobile content that requires serious concentration is likely less than ideal. The ability for multitasking smartphone users to “bookmark” or save content they find interesting for later concentrated reading, viewing, or listening could be useful, however; they can postpone intense concentration on the content until a time when they don’t need to multitask.
Question: How often are you consuming different types of information on your smartphone? (see full question)
When looking at the types of information consumed on a smartphone, the most popular uses among college students are text messaging, with 93% (n=254) doing this on a regular basis, and e-mail with 93% (n=252) using their phones for sending and viewing e-mail regularly. Students use their smartphones routinely to search for specific information, with 92% (n=250) using their phone for that purpose on a regular basis. In addition, 77% (n=208) consume news on their smartphone regularly. Using programs like Skype, AIM, or GoogleTalk are not popular, with 68% (n=184) not using these on a regular basis. Listening to audio podcasts also is not popular, with 77% (n=209) of students rarely, if ever, using this mobile media format. In addition, 61% (n=165) seldom, if ever, watch videos on their phones. Reading books is also unpopular with 93% (n=247) rarely, if ever, using their smartphones for this.
Analysis: The smartphone, despite its many sophisticated features and ability to pull in information from seemingly anywhere, is still a phone, and phones are about communicating with other people. It should come as no surprise, then, that the most popular types of information consumed on a smartphone are not new: e-mail and text messages. Neither is it surprising that using smartphones to search for information is almost as popular. News providers can take comfort in the 77% of college students who regularly consume news on their smartphones. This result from our survey is significantly higher than Pew’s research of mobile-phone users (not just smartphone users) of all ages, which showed that 33% of phone users get news on their devices, and that weather was the most popular type of news . This difference can be explained both by Pew’s inclusion of mobile-phone users of all ages (not just college students as this survey was restricted to), and the inclusion of feature phones in Pew’s survey (while this survey focused analysis solely on smartphone users).
Question: How do you consume news on your smartphone? (see full question)
Consumption of news on smartphones is done is different ways. The most common is through the reading of articles on mobile news Web sites or mobile news apps of individual news brands (e.g., NY Times or CNN) with 65% (n=178) of students using this method. Other methods used on a regular basis: 53% (n=145) skim news articles and other content from multiple sources; 52% (n=142) view news using aggregator sites such as Google News and Yahoo News; and 49% (n=133) of students surveyed use their phone to search for news. Other methods of news consumption are less popular and are used less frequently: 26% (n=71) view news from friends’ recommendations sent to their smartphone; 17% (n=46) listen to audio news on a regular basis; and 13% (n=36) search for news using Twitter on a regular basis.
Analysis: With this question we were attempting to understand if individual news brands are more or less popular as destinations on the smartphone than news-aggregation services that point the user to a variety of news sources. The results indicate that specific news brands still attract the highest news usage on the smartphone platform, but browsing multiple news sources and/or using news aggregators is behavior common of more than half of college student smartphone users. It was surprising that only one-quarter of respondents regularly view news recommended to them by friends, given the tremendous growth of social media. We also saw that audio and video news are not popular on today’s smartphones; that might change in the years ahead as mobile handsets get more sophisticated and phone data networks get much faster.
Question: What are your preferences for consuming news on your smartphone? (see full question)
When students were asked what forms of news they prefer to consume most on their news on smartphones, 84% (n=227) chose the form of text; 63% (n=171) like to consume news through photos; and only 34% (n=92) like video, and 23% (n=62) like audio.
Analysis: This question gives further evidence that in 2010, text is still king even on the smartphone. The high score for photos gives news providers an indication that to move beyond text into multimedia for the smartphone, photography should be the next priority. Experiments with photo slideshows with accompanying caption or explanatory text are suggested; a mobile photo slideshow format also could use narrative text accompanying photos to tell a story sequentially and visually. Low scores for video and audio seem to suggest that for the smartphone platform, video and audio are not ideal ways to present news. Again, this could change as mobile technology and bandwidth advance in the years ahead.
Question: What types of news do you typically read, listen to, view, or seek out on your smartphone? (see full question)
Breaking news is the most popular with 84% (n=227) of students regularly seeking out this type of information. Students also seek out the weather on a regular basis with 82% (n=222) of students looking for this information. Other types: 76% (n=205) of students regularly seek out national news; 65% (n=178) regularly seek local and state news; and 64% (n=175) of students seek out international news on a regular basis. Looking for other types of news on a regular basis using a smartphone is less popular. These include business and technology at 45% (n=123); sports at 44% (n=122); personalized news at 38% (n=105); investigative journalism at 33% (n=89); and specific columnists or bloggers at 25% (n=70).
Analysis: Learning about breaking news and finding out local weather conditions are, of course, ideal uses for a device that many people have with them most of the time, so that those came out on top with this question was predictable. That national (U.S.) news is more popular than local and state news among smartphone users makes sense since most universities and colleges include large populations of students who are from other states; that national edges out international fits the American stereotype of lack of interest in foreign affairs, although two-thirds of students seeking out international news is an encouraging figure. The 39% figure for personalized news may reflect the quality of personal-news services available for the smartphone in 2010. As that technology improves, perhaps that number will rise.
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