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One in ten Americans are smartphone-dependent for broadband access

US smartphone user

© Flickr/CC-licence/m01229

A new report from the Pew Research Centre reveals that ten per cent of Americans own a smartphone but do not have broadband at home, and 15 per cent own a smartphone but have only a limited number of options for going online other than with their phone. Those with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites are especially likely to be amongst the “smartphone-dependent”.

Given that 64 per cent of Americans now own a smartphone (up from 35 per cent in 2011), the high percentage of these not having home broadband access, or just limited access, is indicative of just how far internet access has swung from fixed PC-based connectivity to mobile.

Certain groups of Americans rely on smartphones for online access more than others. In particular, the survey found that 15 per cent of Americans aged between 18-29 are heavily dependent on a smartphone for online access, as are 13 per cent of Americans with an annual household income of less than $30,000 per year (contrast that to the one per cent of Americans from households earning more than $75,000 per year who are smartphone-dependent). Also, 12 per cent of African Americans and 13 per cent of Latinos are smartphone-dependent, compared with 4 per cent of whites.

Despite the importance of smartphones in people’s lives, for many users access is often intermittent. The survey found that 48 per cent of smartphone-dependent Americans have had to cancel or shut off their phone service for a period of time because of financial hardship. In addition, 30 per cent of smartphone-dependent Americans say that they “frequently” reach the maximum amount of data that they are allowed to consume as part of their tariff, and 51 per cent say that this happens to them at least occasionally – substantially higher than those smartphone owners with more broadband access options.

As for actual smartphone usage, Pew compiled the following actions that occurred over the course of a year:

  • 62 per cent have used their smartphone to look up information about a health condition,
  • 57 per cent have used their smartphone to do online banking,
  • 44 per cent to look up real estate listings or other information about a place to live,
  • 43 per cent to look up information about a job,
  • 40 per cent to look up government services or information,
  • 30 per cent to take a class or get educational content, and
  • 18 per cent to submit a job application.

Pew also conducted “experience sampling” of smartphone owners over the course of a week, to illustrate the emotions that people experience as a result of having a smartphone. “Productive” and “happy” lead the way, with 79 per cent and 77 per cent of smartphone owners respectively. But smartphones do not always inspire positive feelings, as 57 per cent of owners reported feeling “distracted” thanks to their phone, and 36 per cent reported that their phone made them feel “frustrated.”

Younger smartphone owners experience a wider range of these emotions compared with older users, and are more likely to report feeling positive emotions like “happy” or “grateful” alongside negative emotions like “distracted” and “angry.”

There is a substantial amount of data and analysis in the report, which can be freely viewed at the Pew Research Centre’s website.

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