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Survey finds smartphones transforming mobile lifestyles of college students

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Once reserved for busy business executives, smartphones are now being incorporated into the mobile lifestyle of college students, says new research from Ball State University. A recent survey of about 300 college students found that 27 percent own a smartphone as compared to the national average of 19 percent for working adults.

"College students are increasingly adopting cell phones - particularly the smart phone - as the core communication and entertainment device for their hectic lifestyles," said Michael Hanley, a journalism assistant professor who leads Ball State's mobile communications research program. "In the few years since instant messaging (IM) leaped from the computer to the cell phone, a new mobile lifestyle has evolved. And save for studying, the computer is quickly being left behind."

Hanley calls smart phones the "game changers" for mobile communications, forcing the industry to cater to the needs of technology-centered young adults in order to build a lifetime partnership.

"Smart phones, which are simply minicomputers that often feature touch screen applications, are popular with college students because the larger screens allow for more entertainment uses," he said. "I think the communications industry will build on this popularity among technology-savvy young people, adding more types of emerging media applications."

Hanley's latest study is part of his continued research into the mobile communication habits of young adults. He has conducted surveys of 4,907 college students twice annually since 2005, finding that:

  • Text messaging has overtaken e-mail and IM as the main form of communication as 94 percent of students send and receive text messages.
  • About 62 percent of students admitted to texting while in class.
  • Students use cell phones to keep in touch with family and friends with 59 percent texting, 17 percent using voice, 9 percent sending IMs and 7 percent using e-mail.
  • Cell phone camera usage has surged, with 72 percent of respondents reporting that they take and send photographs via their cell phone, up from 30 percent in 2005.
  • About 39 percent take and send video using their cell phone, up from 4 percent in 2005.

Hanley is one of several faculty members involved in Ball State's interactive media class (iMedia). Students in the yearlong class are developing and designing interactive news and advertising for a variety of platforms. Allowing students to develop interactive programming is part of Ball State's Emerging Media Initiative (EMI), a $17.7 million investment focusing the university's historic strengths in this area to accelerate benefits to the state of Indiana and give students innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities.

"While today's mobile lifestyle has led to new opportunities for marketers to communicate directly with young adults through emerging media applications, there may be a potential cost," Hanley said.

Hanley points out that advertising on cell phones is a recent marketing phenomenon, with 52 percent of respondents receiving ads on their cell phone in the last few months, up from 24 percent in 2005.

Companies wanting to peddle the latest clothing trends, newest vehicles and cutting-edge computer technology to college-age students and recent graduates have little choice but to turn to cell phones, he said.

"I think the backlash is building because people perceive their cell phones as their personal way of communicating. In 2005, we found that 30 percent of students said they were annoyed at getting an advertisement, and that has grown to 48 percent in the most recent survey. What good is an ad if nearly half of your target market is not happy about receiving it?"

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