As mobile device use grows, along with functionality, so do the opportunities for advertisers to reach their target audience. But how do people in your target age group really use their smartphones, and is their behavior likely to change? RealityMine have examined the detail behind America’s mobile device use, using passively collected data from 3,179 US panellists. We found that although increased mobile device use is a noticeable trend within every age group, there are clear differences in the activity levels, and types of functionality and applications accessed by different generations. In this blog, we highlight those key differences, taking a particular interest in the behavior of Millennials, as this is often an indicator of future trends.

Built in functions: SMS/MMS and email more popular than calling

Analyzing the three main categories of ‘built in’ functionality for today’s mobile phone – SMS/MMS, emailing and calling – show clear generational trends. SMS/MMS is the most used function in almost every generation. Millennials are the most enthusiastic texters, with this making up 33% of their mobile device use. Throughout the generations, women are more active in texting than men.  Women between 18 and 34 use SMS more than 3 times more often than calling (35% VS 9%). The most noticeable difference is in the 45 to 54 age group, with texting by women 8% higher than that of men in the same age bracket. Generally, the older the generation, the less they use SMS and MMS.

Exactly the opposite trend can be seen in phone and email consumption. Those aged 55 to 64 prefer to talk on the phone (13%) and spend time reading and writing emails (21%). In contrast, Millennials are the least active users of these functions (phone 9% and email 12%). In addition to texting, women are generally more likely to make calls, while email is more popular with men in every generation.

The trend towards texting and away from calling and emailing as we move through the generations is very clear when we look at the chart below.

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Socially connected through apps

Turning our attention to installed applications, social networking apps are favoured by all generations, representing 32% of total app usage.  Social networking is the most common app category in every age group, except 55-64 year olds who prefer communication apps such as email, video calling and OTT messaging apps (like Facebook Messenger), rather than social networking. These make up 27% of their app usage.

Women are distinctly more connected to social media applications. Only 24% of mobile phone app usage by men consists of social networking, compared to 38% for women. Women’s social media engagement is further supported by the app session times: female consumer’s average social networking session length is 2.55 minutes while males’ average session last 2.24 minutes. As women are so engaged in social networks, they are also more likely to interact with brands in social media by liking, commenting and accessing offers.

Compared to other generations, Millennials lead in social networking, which makes up 35% of their app usage. Millennials are also avid users of entertainment and media based app categories like games, music, audio, photo and video.

SMS Vs OTT messaging apps

OTT messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, are popular in every age group, and make up nearly 20% of total app usage.

However, looking at figure 2 below, SMS is significantly more popular than any OTT messaging app. By comparing the number of SMS sessions to the most popular OTT messaging app sessions, we can see that as much as 85% of time is spent sending SMS messages, while less than 10% is spent on both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. As figure 2 below shows, SMS and OTT messaging app distribution varies between generations, showing that younger generations use relatively more OTT messaging apps than older generations. This trend is particularly clear within WhatsApp users.

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Apps as organisational ‘tools’

In all generations, men are keener to use ‘tool’ apps than social media. These include apps such as alarms, calculators, flashlights and document viewing applications.

Both genders and all ages are relatively interested in managing their calendars and documents using their mobile phones with productivity apps. Especially Millennial men, and women between 55 and 64, who are avid users of this category.

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Beyond productivity apps, those between 55 and 64 years of age are more active users of app categories such as news and weather, and books and reference, than younger age groups.

Surprising gaming figures

In a recent blog about gaming apps within mobile device use, we discussed our finding that people older than 45 made up nearly a third of the mobile gamers.

As a percentage of total mobile phone app usage, games make up only 4% of Millennial mobile app usage, while for 45 to 54 year olds games make up almost 8%. For females aged between 55 and 64, mobile gaming through an app makes up 9% of their mobile device app use.

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Keeping up with the Kids?

We have found that 35 to 44 years olds are highly connected on their smartphones. Their mobile behavior is more similar to that of the younger generation, than the older.  Perhaps this is driven by the desire of parents to communicate with their children using the methods their kids are engaged in, as discussed by the Wall Street Journal.

Like Millennials, these adults also enjoy social networking, playing games, listening to music and audio. In fact, men in this age group are slightly more active in social media than millennial males. This generation also uses shopping and travel apps slightly more than any other generation.

Generational and gender differences in mobile device use

Our data shows that most people, across all generations and both genders, are using their mobile devices regularly, but are embracing their devices in different ways.

When it comes to gender differences, women’s main mobile device use is socializing, whether it be via SMS, social media or sharing photos, while men prefer communicating through email, listening to the music and watching videos.

Millennials are more likely to spend time engaging in activities such as music, photos, social media and direct messaging than other generations. The more mature the user, the more interested they are using more traditional mobile functions and apps such as talking, utilities, weather and news.

While, overall, texting has been more popular than calling for a few years, this trend, which began with the younger generation has spread through the ages, so that now, SMS/MMS is the most used function in almost every generation.