Smartphone use by collegians dramatically increases as mobile Internet use soars

Topic: College of Communication Information and Media

February 22, 2012

The smartphone lifestyle is rapidly taking over college campuses, leading to dramatic changes in the amount and type of mobile content being downloaded, used and sent by college students, says a new report from Ball State University.

A February survey of Ball State students found that smartphone ownership more than doubled in three years, jumping to 69 percent from 27 percent in 2009, said Michael Hanley, an associate professor of advertising and director of Ball State's Institute for Mobile Media Research. He has conducted surveys on the use of mobile devices by students since 2004. 

Hanley's research on smartphones compares to a recent Nielsen report that two-thirds of 24- to 34-year-olds have smartphones, the highest of any age segments.

The study also found that Internet access has soared with the use of smartphones, with 96 percent of such devices providing online access as compared to 30 percent of feature phones. About 83 percent of feature phone users have never accessed the Internet through their mobile phone.

"Smartphones have completely transformed the daily lives of college students," Hanley said. "This group simply doesn't sit around in their residence halls or apartments. They like to get out and do things. And smartphones have applications that allow them to stay connected with their peers by posting on social media sites or texting their friends."

Smartphone growth could hit 80 percent in 2013 and top out around 90 percent in 2014, he said.

College students' desire to access social networks such as Facebook and Twitter is what's driving smartphone use, said Hanley, pointing out that 91 percent of smartphone users access such sites as compared to only 19 percent of feature phones users. Movies, music, news, video and weather information have also shown strong growth among smartphone users.

Hanley's research also found that text messaging has become the digital shorthand for collegians, with 87 percent using it on a daily basis.

"The smartphone isn't used to make calls by most college students," he said. "They text each other more often because they can send short messages. Only 8 percent said they preferred to email someone."

The study also found:

  • About 99 percent of smartphone respondents said they send and receive text messages, 89 percent use email on their smartphone and 59 percent send instant messages.
  • About 95 percent of smartphone users take and send photographs as compared to 74 percent of feature phone users.
  • About 60 percent of smartphone owners take and send video versus 28 percent for feature phones.
  • About two-thirds of smartphone and feature phone users rely on their parents to pay for their mobile data service.

Hanley's research also found that students with feature phones and smartphones report seeing more advertisements and marketing messages on their mobile devices, and they're not happy about it.

About 70 percent reported being annoyed to receive an ad, and about 75 percent were "concerned" or "concerned a little" about getting mobile ads. However, 64 percent said they would be more receptive if marketers would offer coupons and incentives.

In future surveys, Hanley will ask about the use of tablets as such devices become more affordable and are being incorporated into the classroom by many universities across the country.

"I believe tablets are going to be the next mobile communication device to take hold on college campuses," he said. "Personal computers and laptops are a dead-end industry because they are simply too large. Tablets are compact and offer just about everything a mobile phone has right now. Apple may roll out a tablet with a smaller screen than the iPad in order to compete with e-readers, which are extremely popular and less expensive."

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