Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, Emerging Media

June 15, 2010

Want to communicate with today's college students? Forget e-mail and instead send a text to their smart phones, suggests a new study from Ball State University.

Smart phones now account for 49 percent of mobile communication devices on college campuses, up from 38 percent in October 2009 and 27 percent in February 2009, according to Michael Hanley, a Ball State journalism professor and director of the university's Institute for Mobile Media Research. He has conducted 11 surveys of mobile device usage since 2005 that includes a total of 5,500 college students.

"College students are increasingly adopting the smart phone as the core mobile communication and entertainment device for their hectic lifestyles," observed Hanley. "In the few years since instant messaging leaped from the computer to the cell phone, a new mobile lifestyle has evolved for college students. And except for studying, the computer is quickly being left behind."

Hanley's latest research found that:

  • The use of cell phones is nearly universal on campus, with 99.8 percent of students having a cell phone.
  • Nearly nine in 10 students with smart phones access the Internet from the device, versus less than half with a feature phone.
  • Text messaging has overtaken e-mail and instant messaging (IM) as the main form of communication, with 97 percent of students sending/receiving text messages as compared to 30 percent for e-mail and 25 percent with IM.
  • Cell phone camera usage has soared, with 97 percent of smart phone owners taking and sending photographs while 87 percent take and send video.

Research into mobile communications is supported by Ball State's Emerging Media Initiative (EMI), a $17.7 million investment focusing the university's historic strengths in this area, accelerating benefits to the state of Indiana with media-savvy human capital.

Hanley's study points out that smart phones have become a game changer for marketers looking to sway young consumers.

"The use of smart phones by college students has nearly doubled in one year, and along with it comes heavier Internet use and an increased desire to use mobile commerce like coupons and incentives," he said. "In nearly all mobile content categories, smart phone ownership is driving increased consumption and usage of mobile technologies."

In 2005, 34 percent of students reported receiving ads on their cell phones. That figure grew to 62 percent earlier this year for basic cell phones, so-called feature phones, and 51 percent for smart phones.

The spike results from ads sent via text messaging, which grew from 28 percent in 2005 to 68 percent in 2010 among students with basic cell phones and to 50 percent for smart phone owners, explained Hanley.

His latest research also found that GPS location-based services likewise are growing based on smart phone ownership. About 77 percent of smart phone owners have GPS location services on their phone. However, only 37 percent use it to find the location of products and services.

"In the next few years, I see smart phones saturating the collegiate market, but at the same time, devices similar to the iPad will become increasingly popular among young people," Hanley said. "College students are the first to adopt new types of communication technologies. I think the iPad and similar devices may change the way they communicate yet again as the technology evolves."