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Silver surfers – the dark horses?

Silver surfers – the dark horses?
We hear about millennials and their use of mobile devices all the time - but what about older users? Should we really be ignoring them?

People fascinate me. I love to sit and just watch them and wonder about their lives – where they’re going, what stresses are causing such a worried expression, what they’re doing on their smartphones that is making them smile… or making them walk straight into me!

So how lucky am I that my day-job lets me take this ‘people-watching’ to a whole other level and actually offers some possible answers to my ponderings.  Across my twenty years working in research, I’ve had the opportunity to understand particular types of consumer media behaviour and attitudes at any one time - how to engage a local commercial radio listener, what licence fee payers expect from the BBC, how people consume different online brands, how a film-buff is different to a ‘normal’ cinema-goer  -  but now, working with TouchPoints, I have the chance to look at all of these as well as everyday things such as how often they go to a coffee shop, what apps they’re using on their smartphone and how long they use their tablets each day. 

For the first time, we’ve been able to use the TouchPoints data to really understand the role of tablets compared to smartphones. By using the passive data app that a subset of our sample allowed us to install on their devices, our latest report confirms that tablets and smartphones are different in three key ways:

  1. Why they’re used: smartphones are seen as essential with consumers ever-dependent on them; tablets are more of a nice-to-have device and used when people are relaxed

  2. Where they’re used: because of their size, smartphones can be taken anywhere and everywhere whereas tablets are more likely to be used at home

  3. How they’re used: despite their multi-functionality, smartphones are still mainly a communication tool whereas tablets are used for distraction such as reading, gaming, shopping and watching

Perhaps one of the more revealing and even surprising findings of this research, is how older adults are taking to mobile devices. 

I know from my own experience, that I use my phone and tablet completely differently to my mum.  She has had a pink, pay-as-you-go flip-phone for a number of years, and which she (now) happily texts on as well as makes calls and takes photos.  We bought her a Kindle Fire a couple of years ago and set it up for her - including creating an email address for her and helping her download the apps she liked the sound of.  Two years on, she's been known to spend hours playing word games, catching up with the news and undertaking her daily bible study via apps.

It seems my mum is not alone. A subset of the overall TouchPoints sample, broadly representative of the GB sample, allowed us to monitor their mobile device use passively. One of the most interesting charts in the report (see below), uses this data and shows average minutes spent on a smartphone or a tablet by age. It shows that beyond the age of around 50, people with both a smartphone and a tablet are more likely to spend longer using the larger screen each day compared to their phone.

Source: TouchPoints6 passive data

Another chart in the report shows that adults 15+ spend the most amount of time each day using their tablets to consume some form of media or playing games (around half an hour per day across the week or around 50mins on the days that it is used these ways). But it seems that playing games on a tablet can become almost an obsession for those aged over 65, with this age group spending an average across the week of 42mins each day playing games, increasing to an average of 80 mins on the days when they do this! As well as playing Candy Crush and Farm Saga, this age group are more likely to play Solitaire and various word games.

It's not just games though. They are almost twice as likely than 15-24 year olds to use their tablet to listen to the radio and more likely to use BBC news online than the younger age groups.

So although millennials always seem to be the buzzword of any discussion around mobile devices, this data has shown that so-called ‘silver surfers’ are not to be forgotten. They are using their tablets to access ‘traditional’ media, including news and radio, but they are doing so for an increasing amount of time. 

I personally can’t wait to see what the next TouchPoints data reveals about this trend.  But in the meantime, back to people-watching…

Clare McNally-Luke, Head of Research & Survey Management at the IPA

Last updated 03/06/2016

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