As the holiday season continues, we can’t stop thinking about one thing: family. And one man who loves his family is our CIO, Chris Howard. Today, he’s sharing how being a father and raising four kids has changed how he looks at tech. Chris, take it away!
My household includes four kids, two boys and two girls, aged 11 to 18. While they have diverse interests, they all share an intense infatuation with their phones. Where you find their phone, you’ll find them, often staring at it. It is the first thing they look at in the morning and the last thing they look at before bed. When I speak to them, they often respond like they’re annoyed that I am interrupting their screen time.
As a parent, I’ve spent years managing screen time on devices to reduce the likelihood of devices negatively impacting my kids. I’ve tried to get them to engage with neighborhood kids, have friends over, watch movies, ride bikes, walk to Starbucks, etc. The fact is, I have failed spectacularly in reducing my kids’ reliance on their devices. However, on a positive note, I have learned much from these little phone zombies as a technology professional. This blog outlines what I have learned.
Android Is Out of Style
I’m known to be somewhat of an Apple fanboy here at Slingshot. It’s probably a pretty accurate title, as I carry an iPhone, AirPods Pro (for mobility), AirPods Max (for quality), MacBook Pro, and an iPad. Why I am not getting a friends and family discount from Apple is incomprehensible. I do, however, have a healthy respect for Android devices.
When we design and build apps here at Slingshot, we know that Apple has ~58% of the US market, with the remainder going to Android. However, for teenagers, the iPhone utilization in the US market is a whopping 87%! I have yet to encounter one of my kids’ friends carrying an Android phone. I prefer Apple due to the ecosystem; it all magically works together. However, teens are generally broke and, therefore, can’t afford this symphony of devices.
I suspect that this teen dominance comes down to mainly two things. First, Apple is exceptional at marketing, especially to a younger audience. They excited people about the “dynamic island,” which is quite an accomplishment for such a meaningless feature. Second, I think there’s a fear of appearing in a group message with an ugly green Android response. As these teens grow into adults, will that 58% continue to grow?
These numbers are meaningful if you create an app for a younger demographic, as they’ll expect an experience similar to other common apps found on iOS devices.
“Hanging Out With Friends”
I’m a little older, so “hanging out with friends” means hanging out with friends… in the same physical location. For the teens in my household, I rarely step into their room without encountering other kids on Xbox, Facetime, or some other app. They seem always to be engaged with friends in some digital form.
Every game and app that the teens in my household use extensively has a friend engagement feature. They play games like Fortnite with friends, do homework with classmates, and catch up on the day’s events on Snapchat. Oddly enough, they even use Snapchat to assess where their pack of friends are hanging out before deciding to leave the house.
Watching how my teens engage with their friends has taught me the value and power of connecting users within a common app experience. We recently completed a design for an app called Connected Caregiver, which empowers a team of caregivers to render care to a loved one in need. We took what my kids taught me about ‘always being connected’ (along with our research) and created a community chat feature allowing caregivers to communicate with one another, sharing the day’s experience and asking questions.
Attention Spans of Goldfish
Our attention spans, not just teens, have decreased significantly over the last 15 years. Our attention span has gone from 12 seconds to 8.25 in that timeframe, now less than that of a goldfish (9 seconds, in case you were wondering). Teens have grown up using apps like X (RIP Twitter) and Snapchat. Messages are always short and to the point, often just a handful of words. In some cases, just a single emoji effectively serves the need. In the social media world, we’ve all been trained to consume snippets of info quickly.
As our team designs apps and websites (and I write this blog), we often think about how to be more concise and to the point. We sometimes cut as much as 50% of the content initially written to simplify our message and keep the person consuming the content engaged. Being concise will become even more critical as today’s teens age and become the target customers or users.
Imitate The Apps They Use
I asked my oldest son, Gavin, for his top 4 apps the other day. He told me, in order: TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and X. I suspect his list is nearly identical to the apps other teens would include. It’s incredible how quickly and effectively he navigates through each, catching up on the day’s activities.
He primarily uses X to consume news content and Snapchat to communicate with friends, bouncing between these apps. When navigating one of his preferred apps, he and the app are like one entity. Within seconds, he knows what’s happening in the world, where his friends are, and how their day went, and he has shared details of his day. It’s incredible (and a little disturbing!)
This brings me to the last thing I’ve learned from my teenagers: the importance of studying the UX and terminology used within your target demographic’s preferred apps. It’s like a cheat sheet for building your new custom app. You can use this knowledge to simplify your app’s user experience, making it familiar to your target user. The preferred apps will change as the target demographic changes.
In the whirlwind of parenting four tech-savvy teenagers, I’ve gained insights that have reshaped my approach to tech. Witnessing my kids’ almost innate integration with their devices has been eye-opening.
They’ve taught me profound lessons, from their allegiance to Apple and their perpetual connectivity with friends across various apps. Their preference for instant communication shows the importance of concise content in app design. Moreover, mimicking the user experience of popular apps among their generation will be mandatory when building interfaces.
As we navigate the evolving tech landscape, these lessons I’ve learned from my kids will undoubtedly remain fundamental, guiding our endeavors to create engaging and user-friendly tech solutions. Parenthood, it turns out, is an unexpected crash course in tech innovation.