Technalysis Research
Previous Blogs

July 8, 2014
Virtualization Reborn

July 1, 2014
Portable Digital Identities

June 24, 2014
The Future of UI: Contextual Intelligence

June 17, 2014
Moving to Markets of One

June 16, 2014
Insider Extra: Dell and the Battle for Business

June 10, 2014
Screen Overload to Drive Screen-less Devices

June 3, 2014
Apple Drives Vision of Seamless Multi-Device Computing

May 27, 2014
Surface Pro 3: The Future of PCs?

May 22, 2014
Insider Extra: SanDisk: The Many Faces of Flash

May 20, 2014
The Technological Divining Rod

May 13, 2014
Computing in the Cloud

May 6, 2014
Device Usage a Question of Degree

April 29, 2014
The Next Smartphone Battleground: Durability

April 22, 2014
BYOD: A Work in Progress

April 18, 2014
Insider Extra: AMD Back in the Groove

April 15, 2014
The Mobility Myth

April 9, 2014
BYOD Dilemma: Devices vs. Data

April 8, 2014
Insider Extra: Qualcomm's Evolving Story

April 1, 2014
A Wearables Forecast

March 25, 2014
Measuring Success in Wearables? It's Thousands of Thousands

March 24, 2014
Insider Extra: Intel Strategy Moves Forward

March 18, 2014
IOT: Islands of Isolated Things?

March 11, 2014
Wearables Cautionary Tale

March 4, 2014
The New Platform Battle

February 25, 2014
Watch What Happens

February 18, 2014
Talkin' 'bout Touchpads

February 11, 2014
The MultiOS Conundrum

February 4, 2014
Computing Redefined

January 28, 2014
The Apple Problem

January 21, 2014
The 2-in-1s People Might Want

January 14, 2014
The Post Tablet Era

January 7, 2014
The Innovation Asymptote

December 31, 2013
Top 5 2014 Predictions

December 17, 2013
Holiday Shoppers Gifting Themselves

December 10, 2013
Companion Apps

December 3, 2013
Aisle Check

TECHnalysis Research Blog

July 15, 2014
Digital Generation Gap

Most people who follow the technology industry have a general sense that there are important differences between younger people and older people when it comes to what technology products they buy and how they’re used. Heck, those of us who are parents see it every day in the activities of our children in comparison to what we typically do.

But despite that general sense, I’ve seen precious little data that actually quantifies what the differences are. I believe to truly understand the dynamics of today’s market, it’s essential to get a deeper understanding of these issues.

That was one of the key motivations for a survey that my firm, TECHnalysis Research, recently embarked upon. Ultimately, the study will consist of around 2,500 respondents across four countries (roughly 1,000 in the US, 500 in the UK, 500 in Brazil and 500 in China) answering questions in an online survey about the consumer technology devices they own and the activities they engage in with those devices. The US portion of the study just finished fielding over the weekend and in analyzing the results across 1,020 respondents, I found a number of fascinating data points related to what I’m calling the digital generation gap.

First, to no one’s surprise, there was a big difference in the percentage of time that different age groups spent with different devices. What was somewhat surprising, however, was how linearly the changes scaled with age. Survey respondents were asked to indicate which of about 25 different types of activities they engaged in on their own devices and then how they split their time in that activity across devices. The activities ranged from watching TV programs to browsing the web, reading/updating social media, casual gaming, etc., and the devices types were PCs, tablets, smartphones and TVs. So, for example, people would say how many minutes/hours in a typical weekday and weekend day they surfed the web, and of that time, how much was done a PC, tablet, etc.

The results show noticeable differences in activity participation by age, as well as device usage splits for each of those activities by age. To get a general overview, I created a weighted average of all activities by age group and device, shown in the chart below.

©2104, TECHnalysis Research

As expected, the younger you are, the more you use your smartphone and the older you are, the more you use your PC. The degree of differences between age groups and the nearly perfect tracking with age were somewhat surprising however. Of course, some of this has to do with using the devices with which we are most comfortable. Younger people have grown up with smartphones and older people grew up using PCs. However, there’s also a difference in the type of activities and the amount of time spent on them between the different groups. Some of the activities that older people do are arguably better suited to PCs and vice versa.

A big unanswered question is, how will this chart look in 5 years? Will the 18-24 year olds maintain this split of device usage as they age into the 25-34 group (and so on), or will their likely shifting of activities as they get older adjust their device usage? (Of course, there’s also the strong possibility that we’ll have more device categories to add to the mix in 5 years, but that’s a topic for another column.)

Regardless of how that question is answered, there’s no denying big differences in current usage patterns. If you look at the data, you’ll see there’s nearly a 2x difference between the percentage of PC usage for the younger and older groups and a 4x+ difference in smartphone usage. If that’s not a generation gap, I don’t know what is! No wonder we still find ourselves making arguments about which devices will “win” and which ones will “die”: depending on how old you are and your perspective on the market, you can make very good arguments either way.

Another interesting data point from this chart is the relatively modest tablet usage and its relatively consistent percentage of use across age groups. As the numbers suggest, tablets are roughly a 10% device—something most people use about 10% of the time. While that’s OK, it’s certainly not a high enough number to get people to want to upgrade them on a regular basis. Plus, it also explains why lots of people are taking a pass on purchasing a tablet—it’s a “nice-to-have” but not a “must have” for many.

I also believe these numbers could portend a difficult future for the tablet market as there isn’t a single age group that shows particularly strong usage. Plus, knowing that several important large screen smartphones are on their way, and given the very high usage of smartphones among younger buyers, there’s likely to be a negative impact on tablets as they get replaced by these larger smartphones. On the other hand, the strong showing for PCs clearly suggests the consumer PC category is far from dead—even among younger people—and could be due for a bit of rebound.

Finally, implicit in all of these numbers is very high levels of multi-device usage per household. Regardless of the age group and regardless of the activity, people are becoming accustomed to using multiple devices to achieve or participate in popular activities and that has significant ramifications for the future. From adding more intelligence into TVs to providing scalable services that work across many screen sizes and device types, both hardware and software/services companies need to be building their offerings with that multi-device assumption as a baseline scenario.

Here's a link to the original column:

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A list of the documents that TECHnalysis Research plans to publish in 2015 can be found here.