Currently, 88% of American adults age 18 and older have a cell phone, 57% have a laptop, 19% own an e-book reader, and 19% have a tablet computer; about six in ten adults (63%) go online wirelessly with one of those devices. Gadget ownership is generally correlated with age, education, and household income, although some devices—notably e-book readers and tablets—are as popular or even more popular with adults ages 30-49 than those under 30.
As our research has documented the rise of mobile internet use, we have also noticed a “mobile difference”: Once someone has a wireless device, she becomes much more active in how she uses the internet–not just with wireless connectivity, but also with wired devices. The same holds true for the impact of wireless connections and people’s interest in using the internet to connect with others. These mobile users go online not just to find information but to share what they find and even create new content much more than they did before.
A closer look at smartphones
Some 46% of American adults have a smartphone, defined as adults who either say their phone is a smartphone when asked, or who describe their phone as running on the Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Palm or Windows platforms. Two in five adults (41%) own a cell phone that is not a smartphone, which means that smartphone owners are now more prevalent within the overall population than owners of more basic mobile phones.
As we found in our May 2011 study of smartphone adoption, several demographic groups have higher than average levels of smartphone adoption, including groups that traditionally have higher rates of tech adoption in general: the financially well-off, the well-educated, and adults under age 50.
Additionally, we see no significant differences in use between whites and minorities. Both African-Americans and Latinos have overall adoption rates that are comparable to the national average for all Americans (smartphone penetration is 49% in each case, just higher than the national average of 46%).
Young adults continue to have higher-than-average levels of smartphone ownership regardless of income or educational attainment. Younger adults under age 30 with a high school diploma or less are significantly more likely to own a smartphone than adults 50 and older who have attended college. Similarly, adults under age 30 who live in households making less than $30,000 per year are still more likely to own a smartphone than those over age 50 in higher income brackets.
Previously, in May of 2011, we found that young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels who owned smartphones were more likely to say that their phone was their main source of internet access. Many of “cell mostly” internet users have other ways to connect to the internet—most have a desktop or laptop computer at home, for instance. But about one third of these adults do not have a traditional high-speed broadband connection at home. For them, their smartphone is a way for them to access the online world.
How organizations are harnessing the power of mobile
Many organizations, especially health-related organizations, are turning to mobile strategies to address the digital divide and reach underserved populations. Cell phones are especially powerful because they are so widespread throughout the U.S. population; while certain groups, such as young adults, certainly have higher adoption rates than others, cell phones are still relatively ubiquitous throughout all age groups, income levels, and racial and ethnic groups.
One example of a mobile outreach program is text4baby (www.text4baby.org), a free service that provides free prenatal advice and information to pregnant women and new moms, pegged to the due date of the child, in English or Spanish. The service includes everything from reminders about prenatal check-ups to advice and resources about nutrition, exercise, car seat safety, breastfeeding, and other topics.
For more examples, see Susannah Fox’s presentation, “The Power of Mobile”: http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2010/September/The-Power-of-Mobile.aspx
Beyond smartphones, our surveys have found that both African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are more likely to own any sort of mobile phone than whites. Foreign-born Latinos do trail their native-born counterparts in cell phone ownership, but this gap is significantly smaller than the gap in internet use between these groups.
Over time, we’ve seen that minority groups use a much wider range of their cell phones’ capabilities compared with white cell phone owners. The full list is available in the table below.