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Pew Internet report: Younger users prefer mobile devices

February 3rd, 2011

PewInternetWASHINGTON, DC – In some ways, this is another of those not so surprising reports. “Generations and their gadgets,” from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, finds that while many devices have become popular across generations (a majority of adults now own cell phones, laptops and desktop computers), younger adults are leading the way in increased mobility. These Millennials prefer laptops to desktops and using their cell phones for a variety of functions, including internet, email, music, games, and video.

Of course, this trend has significance to marketers who prize the younger age demographic.

Some of the report’s more interesting findings:

Cell phones are by far the most popular device among American adults. Some 85% of adults own cell phones, and 90% of all adults—including 62% of those age 75 and older—live in a household with at least one working cell phone.

Desktop computers are most popular with adults ages 35-65, and Millennials are the only generation that is more likely to own a laptop computer or netbook than a desktop:  70% own a laptop, compared with 57% who own a desktop.

That certainly fits what we have noticed ourselves: the younger users we know often do not own a desktop computer and do everything on either a laptop or  mobile device, usually a phone. Most prefer texting to email, almost exclusively among themselves.

Almost half of all adults own an iPod or other mp3 player, but these are still most popular with Millennials—74% of adults ages 18-34 own an mp3 player, compared with only 56% of the next oldest generation, Gen X (ages 35-46).

Actually, now, most of us have the ability to store our music on a variety of mobile devices, not just on mp3 players or iPods. Most phones and nearly all other mobile devices will store and play your music.

Game consoles are uniformly popular with all adults ages 18-46, 63% of whom own these devices.

Overall, 5% of adults own an e-book reader, and 4% own an iPad or other tablet computer. So far we have not seen significant differences in ownership of these devices between generations. We would be willing to bet that the e-book reader number goes up quite significantly within a year. Amazon says its ebook sales have already surpassed the number of hardcover and paperback books it sells. The Sony ereader, Border’s Nook, the iPad also all have their ereader fans.

Additionally, about one in 11 adults (9%) do not own any of the devices we asked about, including 43% of adults age 75 and older. This number does surprise us. We have seen increasing numbers of older adults adjusting to the digital world. Certainly those with families generally at least have a cell phone now.

Millennials not only own most of the devices we asked about, but also take advantage of a wide range of functions. For instance, most cell phone owners only use two of the main non-voice functions on their phones: taking pictures and text messaging.  However, most Millennials also use their phones to surf the internet, send email, play games, listen to music, and record videos.

Gen X, though, is also very similar to Millennials in ownership of certain devices, such as game consoles. Members of Gen X are also more likely than Millennials to own a desktop computer.

These findings are based on a survey of 3,001 American adults (ages 18 and older) conducted between August 9 and September 13, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, and the survey included 1,000 cell phone interviews.

The report is available in full at: pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Generations-and-gadgets.aspx

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