One in 5 teen cell phone owners email through their handset.
While 93% of teens say they use email, only 21% of those who own cell phones use the technology to send or receive email. Not surprisingly, there is a significant difference between computer-based internet users and non-users, with 21% of internet users emailing through their cell phones, as opposed to only 8% of non-users.
While just 21% of cell phone owners using email on their mobile devices may seem low, it is important to note that most teen cell phone owners (64%) say that their cell phone does not support email. This means that the majority of those whose cell phones do support email, use it at least occasionally. However, as shown in the table below, this is still not one of their heaviest uses of cell phone technology.
The relatively infrequent use of email through the cell phone can likely be explained by the fact that cell phones are primarily a social resource that teens use for connecting with their friends, and email is not one of the primary means through which they maintain their peer relationships. To illustrate, only 11% reported that they use email (through any device) with their friends on a daily basis, as opposed to 54% of total teens, including non-cell phone owners, who text message their friends every day.
Use of social network sites through the cell phone:
Overall, teens have come to embrace social network sites, particularly Facebook and MySpace. In recent years, the percentage of teens who use social network sites has steadily risen to 73%. Trends for using social network sites through the cell phone are similar to those for email, with 23% of teen cell phone owners reporting that they have used the technology to access social networks (21% of boys, 23% of girls). Most of the teens whose handsets and/or service plans support this functionality use it, although 13% of those who can still do not. As shown in the table below, use of social network sites through the cell phone tends not to be a daily activity for those who do this.
Broadly speaking, accessing social network sites is not a primary use of the cell phone, however some respondents in the focus groups indicated social networks are a primary reason for going online with their cell phones. For example, when asked about internet use with the cell phone, one boy in middle school replied, "I get on MySpace a lot but that’s it." A high school girl in another session explained that she used to go online for other purposes with her cell phone, "but now it’s just Facebook."
The focus group sessions indicated that Facebook and MySpace are the most frequently used social network sites through the cell phone, with a handful of teens also using it for Twitter. In some cases, the teens preferred using their cell phones over the computer for accessing social network sites, illustrated by the following remark from a boy in middle school: "I usually use Twitter and Facebook a lot on my phone. I use them on my phone more than the computer." More often, however, teens express a preference for using the computer instead of the cell phone for this purpose. As is the case with general internet access, reasons include increased cost and diminished utility of the cell phone for online activity. As one high school girl stated, "Using Facebook through the phone is too expensive." Another high school girl explained:
- My email comes to me, like email from Facebook. Like ‘you have a message from Facebook.’ I’d rather not check it on my phone. It just wastes like a lot of time, personally, I’d just rather … I just go whenever I can get on a computer.
This comment was echoed by a middle school boy who said he goes on MySpace through his phone to "look up stuff," but not pictures and video because "it’s different from the internet," meaning it is a different and often lesser experience than using a computer to go online.
Instant Messaging on the cell phone:
Like email and social network sites, instant messaging is also another potential phone-based online activity for teens. Among those who own a cell phone, 31% use their handset to send and receive instant messages (29% of boys, 33% of girls). Instant messaging through the cell phone is most popular among 17 year-olds, with 45% doing this at least occasionally. In contrast, younger teens tend to instant message through their cell phones less often, particularly 13 and 14 year-olds (19% and 21%, respectively, report doing so at least occasionally). This age trend is attributable to differences between older and younger girls. That is, only 17% of female cell phone owners ages 12-13 use instant messaging through their handset, as opposed to 38% of girls 14 or older. This disparity is noteworthy, considering there is no difference between boys in these age groups – 29% of boys in each age group send instant messages through their cell phone.
Responses from the focus groups indicate that AOL’s instant messaging service (AIM) is popular among teens. AIM is used on computers as well as cell phones, and allows individuals to communicate across these two platforms. As one middle school boy explained, "They have AOL, like AIM, it’s supported by my phone. So if one of my friends don’t have a phone, they can get on the computer and text me on my phone."
Photos and video through the cell phone – entertaining oneself and sharing with others.
The survey and focus groups revealed that taking and exchanging photos and video are popular uses of the cell phone among teens in the U.S. In fact, the number of teen cell phone owners who have taken a picture with their handset (83%) rivals the number who use the text messaging feature (87%). The frequency with which they take pictures is notably lower, however, with just 10% of those who have camera phones report that they take photos "several times a day," as opposed to 63% who text message this often.
When asked about their use of pictures through the cell phone, focus group responses corroborate survey findings that 69% of teens regard the technology as a means of entertainment and as a way to alleviate boredom. Many discussed how they frequently take pictures of "random things" they encounter in their daily lives that they find interesting or funny. Sometimes they do this solely for their own amusement, such as having pictures of their pets to look at, but often they take pictures to send to friends who they think will enjoy them as well. For example, one high school girl shared the following anecdote: "I take pictures of strangers if they’re funny. Like I saw a cowboy at Subway, and I took a picture." A middle school boy explained, "I basically just take pictures of anything, anything that interests me, and I send it to my friends if they’ll think it’s interesting. I take a lot of pictures." Sometimes pictures are taken and exchanged to document something special or to "show off" to their friends. One boy in middle school remarked, "When I go fishing I take pictures of the fish if they’re giant." Another noted, "After I have my birthday or something I have a lot of money. I like taking pictures of it [the money] and showing it to my friends."
Videos are also popular, although they are taken and exchanged less often than pictures through the cell phone. This is likely due to technological limitations. As one middle school boy explained, "I take videos but they can only be like two minutes or something." As with pictures, videos are often taken when teens encounter something funny and want to share it with their friends. However, the focus groups also indicated that for some teens, taking video was something they tended to do more in a family context. Teens in our focus groups remarked:
- Last year my brother graduated from 12th grade. I went with my sister. We went to my brother’s graduation, and I had it recorded because my mother wasn’t able to go. So I took it and sent it to her. (Girl, high school)
- I recorded a video. My brother used to have really long hair, like longer than me, so I recorded him cutting his hair and put it on YouTube. (Girl, high school)
- I take videos of my sister. (Boy, middle school)
Older teens are more likely to snap and share photos with their cell phones, while younger teens are more likely to exchange videos with their cell phones.
Teen cell phone owners in the 14-17 age group are slightly more likely to take photos than those ages 12-13 (85% vs. 77%). This older category of teens is also somewhat more likely to send/receive photos than the younger group of teens (67% vs. 56%). However, there is an interesting counter-trend, with more 12-13 year-olds sending/receiving video than those 14 and older (41% vs. 27%). The chart linked to below illustrates age trends for the use of cell phone photos and videos.
With regard to sex, the next chart shows that girls tend to be heavier users of these photo features than boys. Among teen cell phone owners, 79% of boys take photos at least occasionally, as opposed to 87% of girls. Fifty-nine percent of boys send or receive photos, whereas 69% of girls do this.
Teens also use the cell phone to play games, play music, and, to a lesser extent, make purchases.
Video games and digital music are key sources of entertainment for teens. Overall, 80% report owning a game console, and 79% have an iPod or other digital music player. When looking at cell phone trends for playing music and games, we see another area where the technology is highly regarded and used as a source of entertainment among teens. Sixty percent of teen cell phone owners report using their phones to play music at least occasionally. Generally, it is the younger users who are more likely to do this. For example, well over 60% of teens between 12 and 15 play music on the cell phone, as opposed to 43% of 17 year-olds. With the exception of 12 year-olds, this trend for younger teens does not appear to be related to owning an iPod or MP3 player. While 32% of 12 year-olds do not own an iPod or MP3 player, and therefore might rely on their cell phone for music, ownership of iPods and MP3 players dramatically rises after the age of 12, with well over 80% of teens age 13-16 owning one. However, playing music on the cell phone is still popular for these individuals. Generally, there is not much difference between boys with cell phones (58%) and girls with phones (62%) when it comes to playing music on the cell phone at least occasionally. However, when looking at the statement for playing music at least once a day we see 45% of girls 12-13 saying they do that compared with only 28% of boys in this age group.
Playing games through their cell phone tends to be more of an occasional rather than an everyday activity for teen cell phone owners, but still quite popular considering 46% report doing so at least sometimes. Age trends for playing games replicate earlier findings about video games at large, and are fairly similar to those for playing music, with younger teen cell phone owners (61% of 12-13 year-olds) being more likely to do this than older teens (42% of 14-17 year-olds). Equal portions of boys and girls play games on a handset.
Relatively few teen cell phone owners (11% total) report using their cell phone to make purchases, such as books, music, or clothing. In fact, 73% report that their cell phone does not support this functionality. In contrast, nearly half (48%) say they use the internet to make purchases. Responses from the focus groups indicate that when purchases are made through the cell phone, they tend to be for downloading ringtones, games, and music.