March 5, 2008

Mobile Access to Data and Information

WASHINGTON – Some 62% of adult Americans have taken advantage of mobile access to digital data and tools. The Pew Internet Project’s new report, entitled Mobile Access to Data and Information, examines mobile access in two ways and finds that:

  • 58% of adult Americans have used a cell phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) to do at least one of ten mobile non-voice data activities, such as texting, emailing, taking a picture, looking for maps or directions, or recording video.
  • 41% of adult Americans have logged onto the internet on the go, that is, away from home or work either with a wireless laptop connection or a handheld device.

Overall, 62% of adult Americans have either accessed the internet with a wireless connection away from home or work or used a non-voice data application using their cell phone or PDA, according to the Pew Internet Project’s December 2007 survey.

“People’s growing reliance on their cell phones, together with wireless internet access from laptops, suggests a shift in expectations about cyberspace,” said John B. Horrigan, Associate Director of the Pew Internet Project and author of the report. “For many people, access to digital information and resources is an ‘always present’ utility for answering questions and documenting what is going on around them through photos or video recording.”

Overall, 75% of all American adults say they own cell phones. Here’s how the data breaks out when looking at non-voice data activities people access from their cell phones or personal digital assistants (PDA), with percentage represented as a share of those with cell phones or PDAs.

  • Send or receive text messages: 58% have done this at some point, with 31% saying they do this on a typical day.
  • Take a picture: 58% have taken a picture with their device; 15% say they do this on the typical day.
  • Play a game: 27% have played a game on their handheld device, with 8% saying they do this on a typical day.
  • Send of receive email: 19% have done this, with 8% saying they do this on a typical day.
  • Access the internet for news or other information: 19% have used their handheld device for such information access, with 7% saying they do this on the average day.
  • Record a video: 18% have done this with their handheld device, with 3% say they shoot a video on their cell phone on the typical day.
  • Play music: 17% do this with their cell or PDA, 7% on the typical day.
  • Send or receive instant messages: 17% have used their device for IM-ing, and 6% saying they do this on the average day.
  • Get maps or directions: 14% say they have gotten maps or directions with their device; 3% do this on the typical day.
  • 10% have watched a video on their handheld device, with 3% saying they do this on the average day.

Young adults (those between the ages of 18 and 29) are most likely, on a typical day, to use their cell phone or PDA to access a non-voice data application; 73% with wireless handheld devices do so. This compares to the average of 42% of those with cell phones or PDAs who use a non-voice data application on their devices on the typical day.

More striking is use among African Americans and Latinos. Some 56% of English-speaking Hispanics with a wireless handheld device use a non-voice data or information application on the average day, and 50% of African Americans with wireless handhelds do so. These groups lagged in “desktop” online access in the late 1990s and early part of the decade, but the report shows a very different pattern for wireless access on the go. African Americans and English-speaking Hispanics are more likely than white Americans to use cell phones or PDAs for non-voice data applications.

The report also suggests that email is alive and well, even though sending text-messages is very popular, especially among young adults. On the average day, 60% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 with cell phones or PDAs send or receive text messages, while about the same share (62%) of internet users in this age group send or receive email on the typical day.

“Notwithstanding predictions of email’s demise, it remains an important part of people’s electronic communications, even among users of text-messaging,” Horrigan said. “The different tools may serve different functions – with texting a way to stay in touch with friends, and email more oriented to officialdom, such as communicating with co-workers or institutions.”

The report also documents how many Americans have connected to the internet with a laptop or other wireless-enabled device away from home or work. Some 52% of internet users have done this at some point. Usage patterns for this type of wireless access (e.g., logging on to WiFi networks) are similar to those for non-voice data access using cell phones or PDAs, with young Americans, blacks, and English-speaking Hispanics being the most likely users of wireless while away from home or work.

The data for this report was gathered through telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates between October 24, 2007 and December 5, 2007, among a sample of 2,058 adults, aged 18 and older, with 500 respondents contacted on their cell phones. The sample has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan initiative of the Pew Research Center that produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care, and civic/political life. Support for the Pew Internet Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Media Contact: John B. Horrigan, 202.419.4500