Young Innovators: The Next Generation of Mobile Users

In conjunction with Liverpool John Moores University, we spent a morning presenting to 30 secondary school children from three schools in the North West of England. The presentation focused on mobile application development, the different types of people involved and the process to which mobile development is conducted.

devices ownedA quick show of hands in rather low scale and very un-scientific test showed that the majority of children owned an Apple iPhone of some kind whilst there was a even split between Blackberry and Android.

Poor Windows had no takers (including 10 teachers).

I had assumed, incorrectly that Blackberry would lead the way in this age bracket of 14-16yr olds.

This assumption was formed mainly because of BB Messanger and the low price point and tariffs for some of the handsets.


Now, we’ve never pitched a presentation like this before to a group of intelligent teenagers and in all honesty we weren’t entirely sure what to expect! In a previous post I’ve talked about innovation coming from the frontline and it was even more so evident during this interactive session.

I was astonished at how switched on to mobile these children were and I couldn’t help but think; ‘if only businesses were like this too!

You see, children look at things differently. They have a different perspective to what we have and are difficult to predict let alone to streamline into a process. Ideas can range from the off the scale to the truly fascinating. They know what they want and when they want it by.

In challenging their ideas we began to narrow down the concepts into iterative development items and in writing this blog, I couldn’t help but think that in some ways, they are a bit like customers.

what makes a good appJust to set the scene, this wasn’t like an episode from The Apprentice, far from it. In fact, and unbeknown to the groups, what we followed (which we use with Clients at Integrated Change) was an Agile development process using the MoSCoW technique (Must, Should, Could, Wants).  This then produced a wall of post-it notes, which isn’t an uncommon sight in the Integrated Change office and many development environments

word cloud

Just to be clear I prompted none of their answers (some of them are shown in the word cloud on the right) and I didn’t give them any input.

You may think that some of these responses are utterly basic and you’d be right.They do however only back up what I said at the beginning of this post – we have a new, exciting generation of mobile users who really do understand what to expect from mobile.

It’s the basics that are often missed however and the amount of times I see projects where some of these items are missing is scary. Remember, these are 14-16 year olds coming up with answers like these. The answer ‘smooth with no lag’ was particularly insightful and was a stand-out comment for me.

updateappiphoneHow many apps do you see being updated with new features then shortly after a plethora of updates to fix the bugs caused by the new features. I remember when PayPal updated its mobile app and there must have been five or six separate updates shortly after.

One student mentioned that the experience had to be original and interactive and not a copy. This was music to my ears and many a game publisher who has copied the Temple Run concept in some form or another should take note!

Implementation of Facebook was a major theme across the responses, which I suppose could be expected. What wasn’t expected was how it would be integrated. This I will explain later.

So, what makes a good app? We should assume that the core objective leads the way for the Minimal Viable Product. What are the objectives and are they SMART?
It sounds obvious but really, and speaking from experience, this isn’t.

responding to brief

One of the other items on the agenda covered how to respond to a specific customer brief and to provide recommendations of the features and a launch strategy. The dummy brief was to create an app that allowed the user to design and produce their own type of sweet. The app would then be launched onto specific global app stores.

The ideas presented back promoted such aspects as user engagement, repeat use and loyalty.  Acquisition and retention of new customers relied upon elements of gamification  whilst some of the ideas utilised the native features of the phone (such as the accelerometer).

One group decided to make ‘Allergy Advice’ a clear label within the app (which we didn’t pick upon). Whilst another group picked up on the requirement to translate the contents of the app to suit the different languages of the companies global market.

Many of the groups also realised the commercial potential in changing the theme of the app depending on the event; such as Valentines, Mother’s Day, Christmas and so on. We thought that this was a great idea.

what can we learn

Clearly, this particular age group are very switched on to mobile. They understand what makes a good app and they see social media as being a large part of this (Google+ didn’t get a mention, neither did Twitter).

Their ideas of social integration went way beyond just sharing pages from the app; it extended to integrating the shopping experience via social media. As we already know, the adoption of social shopping in the UK is up 11% from 2012 (according to Rakuten) and if anything, we could assume that as this generation of teenagers move into adulthood, this figure will only continue to rise.

As this stage, you my be thinking that these children have no idea about the commercial world, except what to spend their pocket money on every week but you would be wrong.

Every group recognised social media as a loyalty factor as well as a channel to commercialise and promote theFB app. The more recommendations you made, the greater the discount you racked up. The more likes you obtained from your final sweet concoction, the more discount points you racked up against your next order. The more people installed the app from your Facebook recommendation, the more discount points you earned and so on…

Implementing leaderboards of the highest rated sweet design and ingredient concoction helped to add a competitive feel to the application and bolstered repeat use. The top highest rated users then received prizes every quarter.

Now, keep remembering that these are 14-16yr old children. Not exposed to the mobile development world like you or I and you’ll find that these ideas are quite refreshing.

So, translating this experience into real-life projects I can summarise a few quick key points:



It’s this generation of users who will really shape the coming years of mobile and the consumption of digital media. By the time they reach the adult-world of having to get a job, their expectations of what mobile should be providing them will be far higher than that of the consumer today.

If we could all deploy this type of active thought-leadership into our projects, I’m certain that the end product would be differentiating and standout. Honestly, for me, that isn’t such a bad result really.

So, does this one-day session signify what the next generation of mobile users will be like? Can we transfer this knowledge into how we use mobile for an older age group? Yes, to a certain degree I think it does but it is however just one session so we shouldn’t get too carried away.

This blog post isn’t intended to be the start of a research paper into the adoption of mobile within 14-16yrs olds. It does however back-up the latest reports from eMarketer who state that 81% of UK teenagers now use smartphones, rising to 96% by 2017. This age group now represents one of the highest adopters of smartphones in the UK and, if this is your target market then I hope this blog post has been of some use to you!

Companies should not fear the proposition of a new, well-established mobile users coming through the ranks. My only concern is that companies are still trying to figure out how best to meet the needs of their current audience now let alone having to think about a savvier user base on the horizon.

This is an opportunity to act now and be prepared to listen, target and engage with the next generation; they wont be as patient as the current one, that’s for sure.