Infographic: Generational Differences in Smartphone Use

Since the release of the first iPhone in June 2007, smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives, transforming the way we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves. 

The pace of this technological revolution is happening faster than any other time in history, which has predictably resulted in very different generational approaches toward this technology. Adults in their early 20s have literally grown up using this technology, while Baby Boomers can still remember when computers” were machines that took up an entire room.

These generational differences have become very popular material for memesters and comedians alike, because the differences can be pretty funny:

However, what happens when you look deeper than surface stereotypes like Gen Z is incapable of doing anything without a smartphone” and Baby Boomers always hold their phones at weird angles on video calls”? 

When you take time to study the data, a very interesting picture emerges of the different habits and engagement patterns of different generations — which can be used to gain a deeper understanding of these very different smartphone market segments.

A clear majority of adults use smartphones.

In 2010, less than three years after the release of the first iPhone, smartphone penetration in the United States was only 20.2%. Last year, twelve years later, that number was 85%. However, the distribution of smartphone use still varies significantly by age: people under 50 were 34% more likely to use smartphones than people 65 and older. Smartphone use per day is also related to age, with the average for Gen Z (6.4 hours) nearly twice that for Boomers (3.3 hours).

That big difference in usage might lend itself to the stereotype of Gen Z being addicted to their smartphones. However, smartphone addiction is a problem for all generations: According to a survey by iQmetrix partner SimpleTexting, more than half of Boomers who use smartphones said they’re on their phones more than they’d like each day, compared to more than three-quarters of Gen Z. However, Gen Z is also the most likely to be taking active steps to reduce screen time; 41% of Gen Z are working to reduce screen time, compared with 31% of Boomers.

The things we do with our cellphones is affected by our age.

With such a wide variance in amount of smartphone usage, it’s not surprising that people from different generations use their smartphones for different things. The most commonly used app type across all categories is social media, which is used by more than 81% of people under 50, compared to only 45% of those 65 and older. (TikTok was the top social network globally.)

In looking at other types of apps, however, an interesting picture emerges when looking at which age groups uses them the most. Education, social, and media apps were most-used by Gen Z. Apps most-used by Millennials were largely interest-specific, including health and fitness, food & drink, and lifestyle. Whereas the apps most-used by Gen X and Boomers — weather, news, and medical apps — reflect a more utilitarian approach. Even in app types that are used by everyone, such as banking apps and dating apps, generational differences are reflected in which apps people use, with Gen Z largely making different choices than their older counterparts.

The takeaway?

Surface-level stereotypes about generational smartphone usage are often funny because we can recognize ourselves in them. However, diving into the data reveals fascinating differences in the technology habits and engagement patterns of different generations, as well as some surprising common ground. 

Understanding these nuances can help wireless retailers gain a deeper understanding of these different market segments and shape their retail strategy accordingly.

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