BII REPORT: How Mobile-First Teens Threaten To Upend The Tech Industry

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The tech world is mystified and frightened by teens. At the same time, tech companies are desperately catering to these impulsive digital natives, whose behaviour shapes and heralds the industry’s future.

Research indicates that teens are more mobile-focused than their elders and more naturally inclined to spread out their mobile and social activity across numerous services. 

Too much information about teens’ digital behaviour is delivered as a series of anecdotes or moralistic critiques of youth culture dressed up as analysis (see, for example, last year’s overwrought worries over sexting).

In a new report from BI Intelligence, we hew close to the data, analyse the usage habits of today’s mobile-first teens and how they differ from previous generations, and examine how their fragmented use could lead to the unravelling of various centralized mobile landscapes, including in mobile gaming, messaging, and social networking.   

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Here’s a brief overview of the rise of the mobile-first teen: 

  • Teens are more mobile-first than older generations: According to the latest numbers from Pew, 78% of U.S. teens own a cell phone, and 47% of these teens use a smartphone. That translates to U.S. teen smartphone penetration of 37% in September 2012, up from 23% in 2011. Pew defines teenagers as Americans aged 12 to 17.
  • For many U.S. teenagers, mobile is the Internet: Pew found that 25% of teens access the Internet primarily through their phones. For teen smartphone owners, that proportion approaches 50%. Amongst U.S. adults, only 15% described themselves as primarily mobile Internet users.
  • Interestingly, teen smartphone ownership rates are high in the lowest household income bracket: This is likely because teens in lower income households are more likely to use a smartphone as a personal computing device (whereas wealthier teens are more likely to have their own PCs or tablets). Although U.S. teens have a nominally high rate of PC ownership, 71% say the PC they use most often is shared with other family members. You would expect this proportion to be even higher in low-income households.
  • This statistic gets to the crux of the smartphone’s appeal for teens: It is a private computing device, which allows for communication and media consumption away from the prying eyes of parents or siblings.
  • Not surprisingly, younger audiences place a high value on their mobile Internet access:  Deloitte found that Americans aged 14 to 29 value their mobile data plan more than they do pay TV. Only home Internet access ranked higher.

In full, BI Intelligence’s report on Mobile-First Teens:

  • analyse the usage habits of today’s mobile-first teens and how they differ from previous generations
  • Examines how their fragmented use could lead to the unravelling of various centralized mobile landscapes, including in mobile gaming, messaging, and social networking

To access BI Intelligence’s full report, sign up for a free trial subscription here.

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