e-society update: what are the digital natives up to?

e-society update: what are the digital natives up to?

Here we pull out the findings of Ofcom’s latest report to throw light on the way children are using digital communications technologies, in particular the rise of the tablet.

In an earlier blog we brought together some statistics on the way adults and children are using digital technologies. Most of the data we reported related to 2009. The publication this week of Ofcom’s latest Communications Market Report http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr12/CMR_UK_2012.pdf allows us to update some of the information we passed on.

Ofcom regulates virtually the whole of the communications market , covering television and radio, fixed and mobile telephony, the internet and postal services, but excluding newspapers and magazines). Its annual report on the state of this market is always a large document (this time over 400 pages) presenting and analysing quantities of data about how we as consumers are using the various services on offer. If you have an appetite for statistics it makes for a sustaining read. Here we will pull out the findings that throw some more light on what the digital natives are up to – on the way children are using digital communications technologies.

The Ofcom report is based on interviews with of a sample of 2,012 UK adults (aged 17+) conducted during February and March of this year. The responses give a picture of the digital life of the households in which children are now growing up. In fact, it is families with children that are often the first to take up the latest digital device – the parents or carers claiming, in some cases, that they are doing it ‘for the children’.

The proportion of households with digital devices continues to increase. 97% of UK households now have digital TV. Close to 85% of households own a DVD player; 55% own a games console, 50% a digital video recorder (set-top box). While ownership of an MP3 player appears to have peaked at 45% of households, and of a DAB digital radio at 40%.

However, particularly striking is the pace at which the newer ‘smarter’ (internet connected) technologies are being taken up. One in four UK adults now owns a smartphone, an increase of 12 percentage points over the past year. Similarly ownership of tablet PCs has taken off – up from 2% of adults at the beginning of last year to 11% now. Smart TVs (with internet functionality, used mostly for watching catch-up TV) are currently in 5% of UK households.

It’s the rise of the tablet that grabs our attention, both as parents of young touch-screen adept children and as a company that has begun to release our busythings games in app form. (https://www.busythings.co.uk/apps)

The drive to tablet ownership has been led by the middle-aged, the better off and, interestingly from our point of view, households with children (16% take-up at present). It looks set to continue. One in six tablet-free UK households told Ofcom that they intend to buy one in the next year.

Tablets are most often bought for entertainment and because they offer easy access to the internet. As one would expect, they are also favoured for their portability – though the great majority of owners (87%) use their tablets primarily at home. Comparatively few owners (17%) gave ‘work’ as a reason for their purchase and even fewer (4%) use their tablet at work.

Tablet owners typically have what Ofcom calls “a strong relationship” with their new device –nine in ten say they are happy with what it offers them and over a third reveal that they “couldn’t live without it”.

74% of Adult (17+) owners say they use their tablet frequently (more than once a day, every day or most days) to browse the internet, 62% to read or send emails, 46% for social networking, 46% to access news, 45% to play games – and only 23% for work.

Virtually all owners (97%) have apps on their tablet. According to Ofcom’s research, the mean number of apps on a tablet is 17, although 45% say that they use less than half of their apps regularly. Of those with apps, 80% say that they paid for fewer than half of them. The most popular types downloaded are: games/’just for fun’ apps (by 75% of users), weather apps (60%) and social networking apps (58%), followed by maps/navigation, music and books apps, (all around 50%), with shopping and photo/video apps  coming next in popularity (between 40% and 50%) and travel, banking, sports, or education bringing up the rear (downloaded by between 30% and 40% of users).

Owners use their tablet regularly (three-quarters claim to go online with it every day, or most days) but not selfishly (two-thirds of owners share them with family, friends and others). Indeed, 14% of tablet owners gave ‘for my children‘ as a reason for buying their tablet.

So children in most tablet-owning households get to handle the device along with other family members. In fact, 85% cent of respondents with children aged 16 or under said that their child/children had used their tablet. Of these, four in ten (39%) said their children used their tablet every day, or most days. A further 21% said their children used the tablet a couple of times a week.

When asked what their children used their tablet for, parents and carers replied that playing games was by far the most popular activity -s 83% of child tablet users play games on them. Somewhat less popular activities include internet browsing (41%) and listening to music (35%) watching short video clips (32%)looking at photos (30%) social networking (29%) school/college work (28%), watching TV programmes/movies (25%), email (22%), reading e-books or magazines (13%), and instant messaging (12%).

For children a tablet is as easy to use as a television remote control, and it opens the door to a much wider range of experiences. The Ofcom figures suggest that it won’t be too long before it becomes standard equipment for a young digital native.

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