The traditional notion of “going online” often evokes images of a desktop or laptop computer with a full complement of features, such as a large screen, mouse, keyboard, wires, and a dedicated high-speed connection. But for many Americans, the reality of the online experience is substantially different. Today nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them — either because they lack broadband at home, or because they have few options for online access other than their cell phone.
Indeed, 7% of Americans own a smartphone but have neither traditional broadband service at home, nor easily available alternatives for going online other than their cell phone. This report documents the unique circumstances of this “smartphone-dependent” population, and also explores the ways in which smartphone owners use their phones to engage in a wide range of activities.
Below are some more details about these major findings on the state of smartphone ownership in America today, based on a series of surveys conducted by Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
Nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, and for many these devices are a key entry point to the online world
64% of Smartphone ownership is especially high among younger Americans, as well as those with relatively high income and education levels.
And for a number of Americans, smartphones serve as an essential connection to the broader world of online information. The survey measured reliance on smartphones for online access in two different ways — first, by asking smartphone owners whether or not they have traditional broadband service at home, and second, whether they have a reasonable number of options for accessing the internet in general from any location. It found that:
In all, one-in-five American adults (19%) indicate that at least one of those conditions apply to them, and — that is, they do not have broadband access at home, and also have relatively few options for getting online other than their cell phone. Throughout this report, we refer to this latter group as “smartphone-dependent” users.
Certain groups of Americans rely on smartphones for online access at elevated levels, in particular:
- Younger adults — 15% of Americans ages 18-29 are heavily dependent on a smartphone for online access.
- Those with low household incomes and levels of educational attainment — Some 13% of Americans with an annual household income of less than $30, 000 per year are smartphone-dependent. Just 1% of Americans from households earning more than $75, 000 per year rely on their smartphones to a similar degree for online access.
- Non-whites — 12% of African Americans and 13% of Latinos are smartphone-dependent, compared with 4% of whites.