Teen digital habits in Beijing and Palo Alto

iPhone launch - image by Jonah Kessel

In August and September 2011, Danwei worked with the Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SPRIE) on a survey of the digital and media habits of high school students born in 1993 and 1994. The results were presented at the China 2.0 conference at Stanford Graduate School of Business School in September 2011.

In California, SPRIE asked a comprehensive set of questions to students at a Palo Alto high school. In Beijing, Danwei worked with high school student Florence Feng to survey students at Beijing high schools. All participants were born between 1993 and 1995. There were 41 female students and 30 males, 27 of them from Beijing, 44 from Palo Alto. The students in Beijing and Palo Alto were drawn from some of the best schools in each city. It’s a small sample size, and these results reflect the habits of children of well off families in both countries – the survey does not in any way represent the average high school student in China or the U.S., but rather students from a similar demographic in each country.

A selection of the survey results is presented below.

What devices do these students use, and what brands do they favor?

Computers- Apple strong in Palo Alto, weak in Beijing 

Computer brands

Computer brands

Most of the students use computers: Only 2 out of 27 students surveyed in Beijing  and 1 of 44 in Palo Alto said they did not use a laptop or desktop computer. In laptop and PC usage and brands, Apple dominates Palo Alto, but not Beijing.  Almost all Palo Alto students use Apple computers, whilst only 7 out of 27 Beijing students use Apple. Full results below (percentages rounded off)

Palo Alto 
Acer 1%
Dell: 2%
Sony: 2%
Unknown: 2%
HP: 6%
Apple: 87%

Alienware: 4%
Sony: 4%
Fujitsu: 4%
Dell: 12.5%
IBM 12.5%
Apple: 29%
Lenovo: 34%



Tablets – it’s iPad or nothing and much more popular in Beijing 

Do you use a tablet? (iPad only)

As far as tablet usage, a much higher proportion of Beijing students said they had iPads compared to Palo Alto students. The only brand mentioned by students in both locations was the Apple iPad.

Palo Alto
16% use iPad, 84% do not (no other tablet brand mentioned)

56% use iPad, 44% do not (no other tablet brand mentioned)


Mobile phones – iPhone dominates

Apple’s iPhone dominated both Palo Alto and Beijing. Almost all students in Beijing and Palo Alto use mobile phones. According to students in both cities, the average age at which they got their first mobile phone was 12. Apple’s iPhone is easily the most popular phone in each city, although the iPhone has real competition in Beijing, but not, it seems, in Palo Alto.


 None of the students in Palo Alto had a Nokia, while none of the students in Beijing had a Blackberry. Other brands have only a minority presence.

Palo Alto

Blackberry: 2.5%
ENV: 2.5%
Motorola: 2.5%
Sprint: 2.5%
Verizon: 2.5
LG: 4%
AT&T: 5%
Pantech: 7.5%
Samsung: 12.5%
Apple: 50%


Nokia: 4%
Sharp: 4%
Sony Ericsson: 4%
Fujitsu: 4%
Hitachi: 4%
Huawei: 4%
Motorola: 7%
Samsung: 8%
HTC 8%
Apple: 53%


Usage habits

How are students using their digital devices, and how much time do they spend using them? And how do they use them to stay connected to friends and family?

Digital communications – Beijing kids use social networks to communicate with teachers

In answer to the question “When you do not see your parents face to face, what is your usual method of communicating with them?”, both Beijing and Palo Alto students said by phone. But in answer the question “When you do not see your teachers face to face, what is your usual method of communicating with them?”, a large percentage of Beijing students said they used social networking sites and other electronic means aside from email, whereas most Palo Alto students communicated with their teacher via e-mail.

In Palo Alto, texting and social networks were the most common communication channels for friends (about half of the respondents text, and a third use social networks), whereas in Beijing texting was the only method used by a significant number of students, while not one of them mentioned social networking.

How do you communicate with your teacher?

 Communicating with teachers: 

Palo Alto

Texting: 3%
Other: 3%
Email: 94%


Instant messaging: 5%
Other: 10%
Phone – voice call: 25%
Texting: 30%
Social Networking sites: 30%


Web surfing habits

During the weekend, Beijing students and Palo Alto students spend about the same amount of time web surfing. However, Palo Alto students spend more time surfing the web during the weekdays. Palo Alto students spend more time on their mobile phones sending text messages and emailing than Beijing students.

However, Beijing students spend more time using their phones for instant messaging and web browsing. This tallies with results from other surveys in China; for example, according to the Chinese state Internet survey organization  CNNIC, many mobile manufacturers install these commonly used applications in their mobile phones as standard software, and in the first half year of 2010, mobile instant messaging was the application with the highest permeability among mobile phone internet applications (61.5% usage rate).

Net friends – common in Beijing but not Palo Alto 

Do you have friends you only know through the internet?

Do you have friends you only know through the internet?

In answer the question “Do you have friends that you know only over the Internet?”,  90% of Beijing students said yes, while 78% of Palo Alto students said no.


Minutes per day on digital media


One of most dramatic difference was in how many minutes per week they used the devices. Palo Alto students used their mobile phones and computers more frequently than Beijing students in almost every area, although these devices are clearly an integral part of the daily lives of students from both cities.

Florence Feng organized the Beijing component of the survey; Lucy March and Inhwa Chung contributed to this report; image at top of post by Jonah M. Kessel.

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