Apps are Making the Phone Call Obsolete


Mobile and Social: Apps are Making the Phone Call Obsolete

A look at how social media and connected devices have transformed communication.

Alex and Isabella love their smartphones. But like many mobile phone users of their age, there’s one thing the two 13-year-olds from Barcelona, Spain, won’t bother using their devices for: voice calls.

“The last time I made a phone call?” ponders Isabella, who knows a new iPhone is out of the question for her 14th birthday, and is angling for a Samsung Galaxy instead. “Maybe two months ago?”

“I can’t make phone calls,” responds Alex, eying the iPhone 5 she got for Christmas. “I haven’t got a number.”

She doesn’t need one. Provided there’s a free Wi-Fi network within reach, a SIM-less smartphone is still a perfectly workable communications device. And at an age when phone contracts could be a liability for kids and their parents alike, few of her friends make traditional calls anyway.

Instead, a new generation of mobile users is using the smartphone in the same way as any other connected device, from a tablet to a desktop computer: as a way to communicate over the Internet.

This online communication is based on user names, not phone numbers, and takes many forms: text, instant messaging, chat, comments, audio, and video. For a pre-teen or young teen with low or variable income, the big attraction is that it’s free.

Another big draw is that the communications channels available via mobile social media applications serve a dual function: they let you talk to other people, but more importantly they come within virtual spaces where you can hang with your friends.

How much are pre-teens and young teens embracing mobile Internet communications? Surprisingly given the mobile industry’s penchant for research, there is little data on the subject. Partly this is because most market studies are restricted to adults.

And it is partly because the main concern of researchers investigating pre-teen and young teen mobile use is to track possible ill effects, rather than simple use patterns.

When it comes to voice calling, says Jamie Hastings, vice president of the External and State Affairs Department at CTIA, the wireless association: “We’ve not done any recent studies on it. But anecdotally, at CTIA folks can’t get their kids to answer the phone.”

Nevertheless The Network has had access to unpublished data from an important study of 11 and 12 year-olds in the United Kingdom, which clearly shows voice calls losing ground to social media and Internet communications on mobile devices. According to preliminary information on the first groups of children joining the Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) being organized by Imperial College London:

  • 44% of 11-12 year-olds spend five minutes or less a day speaking on their phone
  • In contrast, 23% spend 2+ hours instant messaging per day during the week, and 27% on weekends
  • 23% percent spend 2+ hours on social network sites per day during the week, and 32% on weekends
  • 35% spend 2+ hours a day using the Internet via their phone

When looking at these trends it is worth bearing in mind that even among teenage users there is a vast gulf in habits between, say, a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old.

The five years that separate these two ages are an entire generation in terms of mobile technology and social media development, which means published data on teenage use patterns is probably already out of date.

“No matter what kids are using today, they’ll use something different tomorrow,” says Hastings. “That’s why it’s important to have baseline discussions around how important it is to use mobile devices responsibly.”

Even coming from an older user, the MediumBackchannel blog post A Teenager’s View on Social Media, by university student Andrew Watts, offers a glimpse at how quickly online preferences are changing among young people.

Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave,” he writes. “It’s dead to us. Instagram is by far the most used social media outlet for my age group.”

Facebook’s loss, however, is small compared to that facing the mobile industry as today’s pre-teens and young teens reach maturity.

Source: Deign, Jason  Used with the permission of The Network.

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