Kids are using their phones in more different ways than adults do. Mark Donovan, a senior analyst with the Seattle-based research firm M:Metrics says, “For just about every category of mobile media activity, if you look at the 13–17-year-old bracket, they’re doing more things with their phones than the average phone user.” Multi-tasking is omnipresent, with more than half of the kids the study polled saying they’ve sent text messages from movie theaters, while 28% have sent messages from the dinner table. There is no Off button for the youth culture.
Pre-teen cell phone adoption foreshadows important trends in future mobile device use. In his research paper “Pre-teen Cell Phone Adoption: Consequences for Later Patterns of Phone Usage and Involvement,” Hans Geser distilled three major trends in the adoption of mobile devices by youths:
- Young adopters continue their elevated levels of inbound and outbound mobile-device usage into adulthood, as well as their increased passive availability for phone contact during nights.
- Young adopters have wider networks of active phone partners, even seven or eight years after first usage.
- People who had mobile devices early in life view them as greatly increasing their level of social engagement, thus making them an essential part of their lifestyle.
Don’t Miss Out on Observing the Future
Since tweens and teens are harbingers for the future of mobile device use, you should include them as participants when doing user research or usability studies for mobile devices or applications. Consider doing contextual user research before entering the design phase, then conducting mobile usability studies in the field once your team has created a working prototype. Viewing device and application use in the field greatly enhances your understanding of the utility and potential adoption of the device or application you’re evaluating. Think of a guerilla mobile device usability study as a way of observing participants within their social environments, fulfilling the usability study guideline “Watch, don’t ask” in the extreme.