The Generational Mobile Access Divide

New mobile wireless access survey by Pew -- overall usage is up.  Get ready for some numbers -- but first, a definition. This new Mobile Access 2010 report from Pew defines mobile wireless access as a) Going online with a laptop using a wi-fi connection or mobile broadband card or b) Using the Internet, email or instant messaging on a cell phone. Given that definition, "59% of American adults now go online 'wirelessly' using a laptop or a cell phone, an increase over the 51% who did so at a similar point in 2009." And today, compared to a year ago, more cell phone users are taking pictures (76% versus 66%), sending text messages (72% versus 65%), and even accessing the Internet (38% versus 25%) from the 2009 survey.

Young adults -- it's all about the phone. Eighty-four percent of the 18-29 age group are wireless Internet users, up 11% in the past year, compared to 49% of the 50-64 age group, and only 20% of those 65+, with the older groups increasing only 5% and 3% respectively. And what are the younger folks doing? They're on the phone. The 18-29 age group are using their cell phones for taking pictures (95%), sending text messages (93%), sending pictures or videos to others (81%), accessing the Internet (65%) as well as playing music, games, or recording video. Okay, and I bet they are mostly talking to each other. Over at the other end of the age scale, not so much. Fifty-seven percent of those in the 50-64 age range are texting, but only 19% of the 65+ population text -- and everything else on the list, forget it.

So boomers and seniors want to stay connected to family -- but are they missing a medium?  The boomer/senior numbers drop like a rock when asked how they connect to the Internet -- not much laptop, no cell to speak of. In fact, according to the recent AARP study on Boomers and Social Media, 57% of baby boomers connect to the Internet through a desktop machine, guaranteeing that access is not portable. There's no Facebook in Starbucks out and about or on road trips -- and based on the Pew data, not much texting from the kids or the grandkids.  And seniors are pretty much nowhere in the Pew connectedness measurement -- 34% can take a picture with the phone, but they are probably not viewing, sending, and texting. And although AARP didn't break out the sub-group responder ages, at the older end of the age 50+ spectrum, they are unlikely to have bought a laptop. 

The mobile divide is widening. This divide is not just a family disconnect, it is likely to be a disconnect between older and younger employees, managers and younger workers, doctors and patients, not to mention marketers (see HipCricket and their 65,000 mobile marketing campaigns) of everything from apps to travel to finding restaurants -- and sellers finding prospective customers. And given that only 26% of those age 50+ even have a laptop, that's a big opportunity for laptop manufacturers, if they could only figure out a way to communicate why the 50+ population might want one -- mobility. And wouldn't it be nice to find a phone that has non-tiny keys, a good screen, the ability to text and send/receive pictures in real-time from the kids? I bet that carriers and cell phone vendors -- never mind smart phone vendors -- haven't noticed this growing delta between older and younger users. May we remind them, the older ones are the folks with all the money.

The Mobile Device Gap Is Widening

There are cell phones out there that cater to seniors without the teeny, tiny keys. You mention wanting the ability to send photos. Usually these are pretty basic phones - some do have texting capabilities and voicemail, but not a lot of bells and whistles. The reason for this is that many seniors have a real problem understanding the more complicated phones. Some can't even turn them on or off, or retrieve voice mail messages, let alone send pictures with them. We are trying to get the word out about the "senior friendly" cell phones. These are usually unlocked GSM cell phones with larger buttons, more space between the buttons, larger fonts and screens. They have also been designed to be easy to navigate. Often times, it is the children of the senior that needs to understand the needs of their aging parent and purchase the cell phone that matches the senior's needs, not their own.

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