AMITIAE - Saturday 12 April 2014

Cassandra: Smartphone use by Senior Year Engineering Students at a Thai University

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


In Thailand, the growth in use of smartphones has been spurred by a desire to have the latest technology. Initially affordable only by the better off, smartphones are now used widely by young people, including students. Mature users may want the devices for uses such as making phone calls or accessing online information. Teenagers have different priorities. This has lead to development of apps for social networking as well as those that make use of the built-in camera functions.

The types of smartphones available (as well as apps installed) covers a wide range. It is useful to understand how users work with their devices and also the proportion of devices being used.

A recent survey by Piper Jaffray showed that in the USA more teens were using the iPhone than at the same time a year ago. Horace Dediu examines the data and draws some interesting conclusions, noting that "Teens are leading adoption in this particular sector because the device is very well suited to the jobs that they need to do, mainly social interaction." He concludes, "Teens taught the world new habits throughout the 20th century and they certainly seem to be teaching us in the present." Also Chris Matyszczyk, reporting the findings on CNet, writes that 61% have iPhones compared with 48% last year.

As part of a writing project started in February this year, students were asked to conduct a survey of Senior Year students in the 6 engineering departments at Mahidol University: Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Industrial and Mechanical. These students were about to graduate and would soon be joining the work-force, so their opinions were expected to be more mature with regard to the equipment they purchased for their own use.

While the university itself has been established for just over 60 years, the younger Faculty of Engineering was established in 1989. The total number of students registered for Year 4 was 331. Engineering students tend to be knowledgeable about technology, so a survey of their attitudes and other information concerning their smartphone use may provide useful pointers for the future.

The students in the writing project formed a set of 10 questions suitable for the survey:

  1. How many students use smartphones?
  2. What is the brand/model you use?
  3. Which operating system do you use?
  4. What do you use the smartphone for?
  5. Is the battery life enough for 1 day?
  6. Do you use all available features?
  7. What does the phone service cost per month?
  8. How much time to you spend on the phone?
  9. How much memory in the smartphone is enough for you?
  10. Why did you buy this phone?

The questions were translated into Thai for ease of understanding. A total of 289 surveys were distributed and returned. Some useful points from the survey are:

Using Smartphones 309
Not Using Smartphones 6

Some students reported they owned more than one smartphone, which was also reflected in the question concerning operating systems:

iOS Android Windows Other
143 109 30 12

These figures were taken directly from the student reports. Overall trends can be gauged fairly clearly with 49% using iOS and 37% with Android. Perhaps as significant is the point that Windows use is slightly over 10% in this group, with "Other" at 4%. As "Other" includes Blackberry and Symbian - formerly considered to be giants in the smartphone arena - this indicates a major switch in smartphone use with Blackberry now thinking of quitting the handset business (Reuters) and Nokia now subsumed into Microsoft.

Ownership figures of smartphones in Thailand are also likely to differ from those in the US, partly because of relative incomes in the two countries. The groups surveyed as graduating engineers are slightly older than teens with an age of around 22-24. A wider survey of all 4 years at the Faculty, as well as other faculties and other universities, would give a clearer picture of overall trends.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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