The next generation is alive and well. They are blogging, emailing, carrying mobile phones, text messaging, listening on iPods, networking and chatting with friends through social apps and messenger programs, and playing complex massive multi-player games online.
They are about 5 years old.
They are your target customer if you are in new technology development.
While there are some out there who still balk at the idea of focusing advertising and development toward kids – they need a refresher class in basic business. Solidifying brand recognition is a lengthy process, and if kids grow up using something, they will continue to use it as adults.
More than that obvious statement of focusing on the next generation now… the question on the minds of people who prospect ideas in new development is more tricky. What will these kids expect as adults? Or more specifically… what will we do NOW to affect what their expectation becomes later?
Observation of the new generation client starts now. As the people who create new technology, we need to know what functionality appeals from the start.
Here are a few of my observations, developed from watching my own kids as well as their friends:
- Computers are for gaming and internet access.
- As long as the computer has a browser installed, and whatever computer games they play accessible – that’s all they need. Kids expect to be able to do everything, aside from gaming, through their browser. The sheer idea of having to install a program to do something else is, literally, enough to make them giggle. Developers, that means that if you aren’t building web applications, or working on the types of software that make these things possible… start now.
- Massive multi-player gaming will continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
- My 8 year old has been playing WoW for the last year, and I recently posed the idea of buying her a game that doesn’t have other people connected. That got a blank confused stare from her. Her hesitant response was something akin to ‘Are they fixing it soon?’ Make a mental note of that… if you can’t currently connect to people, they assume it’s broken and needs fixing. Kids are fine with family/friend gaming on with Wii or Playstation etc… but the idea of having no ability to play with someone else? Get real. Developers: Listen in on that one – kids expect to be socially connected through technology. Period.
- Operating system doesn’t matter.
- Again, the use of a computer has changed. As long as it can play their games and connect them using a browser – that’s all they need. My 5 year old son has been using a Ubuntu Linux laptop since he was 3 and can use both that and a Windows computer very proficiently. My 8 year old daughter can use both of those, plus a Mac. Developers: All operating systems have an equal chance in the market with this generation.
- Browsers matter alot.
- I have been conducting a mini experiment on my 5 year old sons use of browsers over the last year or so. On the Windows computer I installed Opera, Firefox, Safari (for Win), and IE. The same for the Linux one (without Safari and using multiple-IE’s to have IE on there). On each browser I set up the same bookmark quick links to get to his favorite sites. He eventually tried them all, and I would occasionally watch how he interacted with them. Occasionally a site would pop up saying it needed a particular plugin – this response ticked him off. His typical response was to either change the page immediately to something ‘not broken’ or close the browser and open a different one. If I watch him now – I can tell you this: On Windows, he uses Firefox. On Linux, he uses Opera (likely because a few Firefox plugins don’t have a version for Linux). However – he can, and has, used them all. The defining criteria in how he uses them is simple: If stuff breaks or errors often when he uses it, he stops using it. Common sense I think. Developers: If you make plugins, make them for all operating systems. If you make websites or web apps – use common cross-os supporting plugins to ensure they work.
- Web apps for chat and email.
- My daughter will sometimes chat with relatives and friends using various networks – but she never uses an installed chat program even though we have them. Again, it’s about using the browser for it. She uses Meebo.com because she logs into them all at once and can talk to everyone in the same screen WHILE she’s in another tab doing something else. For email, she has a Gmail account which she uses through the browser only – big surprise. Downloaded email is ridiculous to kids when they have gigs of space to keep their email online and get it anywhere. Developers: Keep improving online apps for communication – they’re gold.
- Wireless everywhere.
- We vacationed in a cabin at a state park – my daughter checked email via wireless and played WoW on a laptop, my son played his web games. We went to the coast and stayed in a condo with no wireless and no internet in the condo lobby, they complained like the biggest junkies in withdrawal and wanted to go home the entire week. For my sanity, we’re never going there again. Developers: More and better wireless devices and connectivity. Businesses: Please God have wireless.
- Mobile is King.
- I doubt I even have to explain this one – but anyone who has been living under a rock needs to get out and go walk around some kids so that you can see the rapid clicking on phones. Texting will probably become an Olympic speed sport. Taking video and pictures with a phone is the new artistry. Schools are giving in to having cell phones in class for emergencies as long as they are ‘off’ – but I doubt they stay that way. I’d take a guess that when my daughter was in kindergarten about 4 of the kids in a class of 20 or so had cell phones with them. That number has grown each year as she moves up in grades. Developers: Make everything you can do with your web applications in a browser doable via a cell phone or handheld browser. The world is mobile – develop for it.
- Movies on the Computer.
- If the TV’s in the house are being used, it’s pretty normal for either of my kids to grab a DVD, head to their respective computers, and pop it in. Bringing a way to play DVD’s on long trips is just as important as having a way for EACH of them to watch their own thing in the van on a drive. Someone got wise to that since I’ve seen more and more family vans with multiple independent DVD drop-down screens for watching 2 things at once. But where I REALLY think this is going to continue to grow is with being able to ‘rent and watch’ movies from the computer. Netflix.com is getting there with the ability to rent and watch on the computer – but it’s not a perfect system because it requires Windows. Beyond that… I don’t think it’s enough. I think the next generation of kids is going to grow up wanting to be able to watch a movie using any device that can connect – and that means it has to be device and OS independent… AKA: through a browser. Developers: This is the age of YouTube folks – work on perfecting being able to watch movies through the browser.
- No Desktop Gadgets.
- In fact, this goes for all things that auto-load on startup. This may surprise some of the folks who are hard at work creating all sorts of new gadgets for the desktop – but most kids I’ve watched use a computer shut them off. Why? I’ve asked and heard: ‘They make the computer slow.’ and ‘I don’t use them.’ and ‘I keep accidentally clicking on them.’ On Windows Vista, with the little default gadget bar – my daughter set it to not load at all. Why? They make the computer slow when she plays WoW – in fact, everything that loads on startup that’s not-essential is turned off. Again, as I pointed out before, kids use the computer to play games and use a browser. Why would kids want desktop widgets slowing the computer down when they have a Google homepage that has them, or Netvibes or Pageflakes? Developers: Work on improving portals that provide gadgets/widgets instead of something that is a glorified link on the desktop that takes up processing speed.
- Kids Are Speed Demons.
- They have even less patience for using websites and web apps than the average adult – which means it’s practically non-existent. If you make a website for kids – it had better be fast loading and processing. They will tolerate a slow loading site for their very favorite characters only, because the reward is significant. But if you aren’t Disney.com – you can’t afford to have a site as slow as they do. Keep in mind, this is what kids want now. These kids will grow up and still want it on an adult oriented site – learn how to speed up everything. Developers: Minify all your code. Don’t use tables for layout – they load slower. Optimize images to death. Reuse images. Don’t have music or movies play on startup – kids know how to push the play button and they will.
- Kids Love Bright Centered Minimalism.
- Adults tend to prefer monochromatic minimalism – kids like bright color. No big surprise there. But if you watch kids use a computer, you’ll notice that alot of times they tend to have tunnel vision and just look at the center of the page (though plenty of adults too also, I see it much more in kids whereas many adults start at the top left corner). Develop with that in mind. Take a look at PBSKids.com and you’ll see someone who has successfully done that. The design is minimal in content, yet colorful and very much center screen. Another element of that is that kids work extremely well with image representations. You ever seen a kid use a iPhone? It’s enough to make you dizzy! They combined the already amazing finger dexterity of kids (we’ve seen this for years with game controllers) and added picture representations and a minimalistic design. Developers: Take out the junk on your sites and apps on devices. Minimize. Use picture representations (but don’t forget to make it accessible!). Add TONS of bright color.
- Free is No Longer an Option.
- Kids nowadays are growing up with a million free to use web apps, games, research sites, etc.. Something being FREE is no longer a surprise – it’s expected. If something isn’t free, they find something that is. If you don’t think they can – just ask a kid to find you a website on a topic, and most often they’ll have Google loaded up faster than you can blink sorting through search results (btw – Google is centered, minimal, and often has a changing logo kids like). Business Developers: Find ways to use the ‘free’ business model (often supplemented with advertising or a premium service) or you will find yourself out in the cold with this generation.
- Tech Savvy Input.
- If people thought my generation was tech oriented – this one is VERY technologically savvy and can sniff out bugs and errors with their eyes shut. More than that – they EXPECT to be able to report bugs so they can be immediately fixed. My daughter knows how to report broken websites in Firefox, to report errors in the browser, and (even though I don’t) she knows how to file bug reports with the companies that run the games she plays. The flip side of that user input is that she also EXPECTS that those bug reports are easy to do, will be immediately appreciated and resolved. Developers: Prepare yourself for a whole generation that’s growing up on open-source, user driven technology. Plan ahead and get yourself ready with a bug reporting system, and a plan to implement fixes regularly.
In Total: Instant Gratification.
The current breed of technology developers mostly come from my generation – in which we were/are considered spoiled and selfish in our desire for things faster/better … the ‘I want it NOW’ generation. Because our generation went out and made technology to solve our need for speed – the new generation is even more focused on immediately being able to access what they want. That’s the technology they are growing up on.
Plan for it.