Gen Z’s Device Preferences
& Decision Drivers

Smartphones, Tablets & Computers

The technology habits of Gen-Z  – those born from the late 90s to the late 2000s, also known as “zoomers” – are often considered interchangeable with their entire identity. There are plenty of good reasons for this; as the first Americans to grow up with access to the internet and smartphones from an early age, Gen-Z has a more foundational connection with new technologies than older generations.

There is no shortage of statistics to support this idea. Nearly 50% of zoomers report using digital communication more often than face-to-face. 91% use digital devices in their beds before they fall asleep. The list goes on, and an unavoidable truth emerges: understanding zoomers’ technology habits is the key to understanding them as a generation.

Too often, though, this fact remains a simple truism. Gen-Z are considered “digital natives” without any deeper insight into their actual relationship with technology. What about their preferences for specific devices, such as tablets versus smartphones? Desktops versus laptops? What devices do zoomers like to use for different tasks throughout the day, and why?

Our goal within the Gen Z insights space is to zoom in on some of these more specific questions, going deeper into Gen-Z’s relationship with technology beyond simply labeling them as digital natives. Brands and marketers hoping to reach this highly coveted, often misunderstood demographic should take note. Examining the relationship between Gen-Z and their technology may unlock a wealth of insights for how to make a genuine connection with them.

Phones

It is a cliche at this point to talk about Gen-Z’s obsession with their phones. Again, though, there is a basis for this. 55% of zoomers use their phones more than five hours a day. Importantly, 95% of these phones are smartphones, such as iPhone or Android devices.

They certainly aren’t just being used for texting or making calls, either, as mobile devices account for over 60% of all internet browsing time for zoomers (compare that to around 40% for older generations). Clearly, phones are more than just an interpersonal communication tool for younger consumers. They are their portal to the wider world, and a key channel through which to reach them.

With such high importance placed on smartphones, then, how do zoomers go about choosing which device to purchase? Brand loyalty certainly has some sway, with Apple generally leading the pack. A 2019 survey of teens showed that a startling 83% owned an iPhone, and 86% planned to buy one in the future.

But Gen-Z considers many factors beyond the brand when choosing a smartphone. A particularly strong motivator is the camera, which is perhaps unsurprising given their affinity for social networking apps like Instagram, SnapChat, and Tiktok. Other technologies included on the device are also motivating factors, such as whether the phone has facial recognition capabilities or 5G internet speeds. 

Beyond hyping up the technological capabilities of their devices, smartphone manufacturers should realize just how important their product is to the average zoomer. Nearly ⅓ of the generation, after all, would rather go 3 days without showering than a week without their phones!

All kidding aside, smartphones connect zoomers with their friends, their family, and the world around them. They allow them to take in more knowledge and communicate more easily than ever before. Is it any surprise that they’re so cherished? Brands should not smirk at zoomers’ love for their devices, but embrace it. After all, not many companies can say their products are more important to their target audience than taking a bath.

Computers

Smartphones are a big part of the Gen-Z x technology dynamic, of course, but they are not the whole story. How are zoomers using other devices, such as computers and tablets, if at all?

When it comes to non-mobile computer usage, Gen-Z prefers using PCs to tablets, which is actually a contrast to the trend among millennials. This contradicts what is known as the “traditional device hierarchy,” i.e. the assumption that mobile devices are used more than tablets, and tablets more than PCs. Instead, zoomers are more comfortable switching between different devices based on what activity they are performing. And tablets are simply not seen as useful.

One exception may be specialty devices, such as drawing tablets, which may appeal to the creative and expressive zoomers – but in general, laptop and desktop computers are a safer bet when marketing to this demographic.

In particular, laptops are important devices for Gen-Z, perhaps second only to their smartphones. One study by Intel looked at laptop preferences among zoomers, and came away with some telling insights. Longer battery life, faster performance, and better graphics topped the list for what Gen-Z wanted out of a better laptop. Perhaps not coincidentally, all of these factors relate to streaming and gaming, favorite activities of the generation.

It’s not all fun and games with Gen-Z laptop usage, however. One recent report from Forrester found that Gen-Z prefers two-in-one laptops in the workplace. This also makes sense considering the rise of work-from-home and coworking spaces among younger professionals. Zoomers need a device that is not only portable but can be seamlessly switched from one task to another. 

Connecting with Technology

When it comes to consumer electronics, as with other categories, it is important to remember that Gen-Z wants to have reciprocal and authentic connections with companies that market to them. Research shows that this generation is, in many ways, “over” traditional marketing channels like print or video ads. They are instead interested in engaging directly with brands. 48% of respondents to one survey had a strong desire to connect with brands, whether by submitting product reviews, having their feedback considered in new product development, or other methods.

In addition, the rise of tech influencers should be paid attention to by producers of electronic devices. Nearly half of zoomers have made a purchase based on the recommendation of an influencer (compared to just 26% of other consumers,) so this is not a trend to ignore.

Just as important as which channels you reach them with, however, is gaining a deeper understanding of what technology means for Gen-Z. Yes, one can make a lot of jokes about how much they love their smartphones. But technology also has overwhelmingly positive associations with young people. In a world often beset with crises, 80% of Gen-Z believes that technology and automation can help build a more equitable work environment. This is, after all, the generation noted for their thirst for social justice just as much as their addiction to technology. Brands should realize that the devices they make stand at the center of zoomers’ lives. They have the potential to make a meaningful connection with an entire generation, an opportunity that should not be wasted.

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