The smartphone generation gap: Over 55? There’s no app for that


The over-55s will experience the fastest year-on-year rises in smartphone penetration. Smartphone ownership should increase to about 50% by year-end, a 25% increase from 2013, but trailing 70% penetration among 18-54s. The difference in smartphone penetration by age will disappear, but differences in usage of smartphones remain substantial. Many over 55s use smartphones like feature phones.

Over a quarter of adults in the UK will be 55 or older in 2014. The attractiveness of the 55+ group has long been recognized: with longer life expectancy, older consumers are likely to continue working, accumulate an ever-greater share of global wealth and be increasingly interested in technology.

This age group – which is likely to continue growing in absolute numbers and share of adults over the medium term – is likely to control a large proportion of disposable income in their countries. They are not just an untapped market; they are a lucrative untapped market.

Yet in 2014, in the UK, downloading apps, instant messaging and social networking usage on smartphones among the over 55s is likely to be markedly lower than among 18-54s (see table below for a comparison of smartphone usage for the UK average consumer and the over-55 as of May-June 2013).

Smartphone usage UK average Over-55s
Consumer that never downloaded an app 17% 33%
Consumers using IM on a weekly basis 30% 13%
Consumers using social networking on smartphones on a weekly basis 59% 29%

For mobile operators, targeting the over-55s could be particularly effective. Carriers should ensure that all aspects of service -- from the structure and explanation of tariff plans, to customer service -- are appropriate for this group.

Discoverability remains a key inhibitor to app downloads for the over-55s. App store providers may need to consider adding filtering options based on demographic relevance. Moreover, as some consumers in this age group may delegate the app discovery and download process to friends or family, app developers may need to consider adding a functionality that allows approved users to take control of devices remotely.

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