As part of our research focusing on young people’s online help-seeking behaviour and funded by the Nominet Trust, YouthNet has just completed four online focus groups involving 28 participants. The objectives of the focus groups were to ask participants about their mobile use and help shape the survey which we will be running in August.
The discussions focused on (1) how young people use the web and their mobile phones; (2) when, where why and for which activities they use the PC vs their mobile to access the internet; (3) use and attitudes towards apps; (4) where young people hear of new technologies and (5) their expectations of future technologies.
Firstly, the discussions showed that, even with the Smartphone revolution, the main role of mobile phones hasn’t changed – it is still principally used to communicate. The internet hasn’t replaced traditional forms of communication such as sms or calls, but has enhanced the way people connect by allowing more instant access: “If people don’t reply to texts or phone calls you can usually catch them on Facebook where they will pick it up on their phone most likely”. Communication is becoming “more seamless and interconnected”, since people will now switch their channel of communication during the same conversation (for example, from sms to Facebook messages and vice versa).
Participants were probed on when and why they’d use mobile phones to access the internet as opposed to their PC. Overall, respondents agreed the PC is better than the phone to navigate the web, because of Smartphones technological constraints (short time memory, small screen, slower process power, shorter battery life, less functions, difficult to multitask). However, compared to a PC, mobile phones were considered to be far more convenient to use, since they are always on you, always connected to the web, “easy to grab and very portable”. Interestingly, when respondents were asked which device is better for privacy, opinions were mixed. Some respondents thought the mobile phone was “better for personal privacy”; this was mainly because “nobody uses it but you” and it is always available. However, other respondents thought the PC was “better for internet privacy”, because they knew how to delete the browsing history on their PC but not on their phone. Similarly, when asked which device is more personal, young people taking part in the groups had different opinions. Some of them thought the mobile phone is more personal because “you are the primary user, […] it’s yours and nobody else’s”. Other participants said personal settings are more general on the phone, and personalising functionalities on the phone takes up significant memory space.
Young people were also asked about their opinions on apps. Apps were mainly seen as shortcuts to a service, something that offers “a quicker way of accessing a bigger service in a small way”. Only a few respondents thought apps could provide extra services by using different aspects of a phone that a PC wouldn’t have (like dating apps providing additional location services, satellite navigation, barcode scanners). Also, when asked whether they’d prefer an app or a website optimised for mobile phone for websites which host a lot of information, the majority of participants felt apps were not the best way to deliver the information, since they were less likely to be comprehensive and accurate.
Young people were also asked where they had heard of new technologies, especially around the subject of apps. Interestingly, participants said they get information from professional websites and Facebook ads. The majority of them didn’t get recommendations from friends, either because they have different types of devices or because they “don’t tend to talk about apps”.
Finally, respondents were asked how they feel about future developments in the world of technology. Generally, the young people involved in the groups were excited about how technology will keep on evolving and making life easier. However, some respondents raised interesting concerns and here are a few examples:
“[I feel] excited […] but also worried as i already feel the younger generation are less socially intelligent” (Male, 24 yrs old, from Birmingham)
“A bit worried it can cause people who don’t have these new phones to feel like they are worse than others people may laugh if you don’t have the ‘in’ mobile because you cant afford it” (Female, 16 yrs old, from Southport)
“I like it although relying so heavily on it does worry me slightly – as identity fraud or online fraud could be come easier” (Male, 20 yrs old, from Coventry)
“It’s good but I kinda worry about it overtaking everything – e.g. Waterstones, HMV going out of business because everyone’s online” (Female, 21 yrs old, from Birmingham)
The focus groups gave us a valuable insight into young people’s use of different devices to access the internet. Findings are useful for an initial insight and give us the basis to refine our research further as we go out to through a survey to 1,000 16-25 year-olds living in the UK – watch this space for future updates on the research.