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Younger generation wises up to smart phones

For 15 to 24-year-olds around the world, it's more common than ever to have not just a mobile phone but a smart phone that can update Facebook statuses on the fly, that can upload that sick flash mob just seen to YouTube and that can send text messages and photos to friends. 

A recent study by the Nielsen Company of thousands of young people in Brazil, Russia, India, China, Vietnam, Germany, the U.S., the U.K., Spain and Italy shows that for them, mobile phones — and increasingly, smart phones — are not a luxury expenditure but a necessity.

In the paper, "Mobile Youth Around the World," which was released last month, the overview sets up the conclusion of the study: "Young people around the world are more immersed in mobile technology than any previous generation."

We already know that American teens consider their phones an extra appendage, the loss of which will certainly prompt some kind of panic attack. (I've seen it!) From what I witnessed on recent traviels to Thailand and while passing through the Incheon airport in Korea, these small devices carry a lot of weight elsewhere as well.

The biggest number that jumped out in the report was from China, where 70 percent of young people use the Internet from their phones. By comparison, U.S. youth clocked in at 48 percent. Meanwhile, UK youth overshadowed those in other European nations with 46 percent of them surfing the net on their phones compared to the 20 percent of German youngsters who access the web from their mobile devices.

Another interesting finding: U.S. teens and young adults are less likely to pay for their mobile phone bills than their counterparts in other countries. This may explain the popularity of unlimited data family plans amongst U.S. carriers, especially given that nearly 3,400 texts are sent and received per month by the average teen here, as reported by our own Suzanne Choney

The report elaborated more on that.

Texting is currently the centerpiece of mobile teen behavior. Forty-three percent claim it is their primary reason for getting a cell phone or mobile device, which explains why QWERTY input is the first thing they look for when choosing their devices.

The trend of relying on mom and dad's plans seems to spill over into young adulthood, as U.S. college-age men and women rang in last with only 45 percent being responsible for their mobile phone bills.

As the study noted:

Outside the United States, prepaying for service is a common method, often due to a lack of the required infrastructure and ecosphere to track credit history. At 24 percent, young people in the US are much less likely to prepay than the emerging markets, which all have prepaid rates over 85 percent. 

In the 15 to 19 age group, Germans and Brazilians are the most self-sufficient, with 56 percent paying for their phones and Italians the least, at 21 percent. But Italians are also the leaders in smart phone adoption, at least amongst this younger generation, with 47 percent of those ages 15 to 24 having those devices. Only 33 percent of U.S. users in the same age range claimed to own a smart phone and India had the least, with 10 percent.

Something I observed on a recent visit back to my native country, Thailand, was the prevalence of SIM cards, which is also noted in this report:

One distinguishing factor of the US versus other countries' mobile behavior is multiple-SIM card usage. Outside the United States, it is not unusual for people to swap the SIM card in their phone in order to take advantage of different tariffs and lower cost in-network calling from mobile carriers...In terms of the motivation behind having more than one SIM, Italian youth claim their primary reason is to take advantage of different tariffs and free text messages. In China, young multiple-SIM users are most likely to do so because of the ability to have different numbers for different people. Some device manufacturers are taking advantage of this trend by creating devices that make it easy for consumers to insert multiple SIMs into the same phone at the same time.

Across the board, young people were pragmatic in how they chose their devices: price was the number one factor.

But the trend is definitely skewing toward more online use, more smart phone functions. So parents, be prepared to answer your child's call for them.


If there's any doubt, read this part of the report:

Ninety-four percent of teen subscribers self-identify as advanced data users, turning to their cell phones for messaging, internet, multimedia, gaming and other activities like downloads...Teens are not only using more data, but they are also downloading a wider range of applications. Software downloads among teen subscribers who use apps enjoyed a solid 12 percent increase in activity versus last year, from 26 to 38 percent. This includes popular apps such as Facebook, Pandora and YouTube. Usage of the mobile web has also surpassed activity on pre-installed games, ringtone downloads and instant messaging, too. Other mobile activities like mail and text alerts have also seen significant growth.