November 30, 2012

The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity

Part II: Barriers to Adoption

What is preventing those who do not own a phone from purchasing one?

Some 15% of US adults do not own a cell phone at all, and we presented these non-adopters with an open-ended question in which we asked them to tell us the main reason why they do not own one. The largest proportion of these non-owners say that a lack of need or interest is the main thing standing in their way: 38% don’t need a cell phone or are happy with their landline, while 11% say that they don’t like cell phones or simply aren’t interested in purchasing one. Economic factors are the second-most common reason given, as one in five non-owners (21%) say that they do not own a cell phone because they are too expensive.

Figure 8

The relatively small number of non-cell owners in our survey (and the general lack of demographic diversity within this group) limits our ability to compare reasons for non-adoption among different groups. However, older adults are especially likely to say that they don’t have a cell phone because they don’t need one or are happy with their existing landline phone.

What is keeping non-smartphone owners from upgrading?

In addition to asking why people might not own a cell phone in the first place, we also asked the 40% of the population that owns cell phone but not a smartphone to tell us the main reason why they do not own a more advanced device.

Overall, cost plays a much more prominent role for upgrading to a smartphone, than it does for deciding whether or not to get a cell phone in the first place. A total of 37% of non-smartphone owners mention price in one way or another as the main reason why they haven’t upgraded — 30% say that smartphones are too expensive in general, 4% say that the phone itself is too expensive, and 3% say that the cost of purchasing a data plan is their primary concern (as noted above, 21% of non-cell owners cite price as the main reason why they do not own a cell phone at all).

At the same time, a sizeable proportion of basic cell owners simply don’t see a need to upgrade their phone. Some 29% of non-smartphone owners say that they “don’t need” a more advanced phone, while an additional 5% are “just not interested” and 4% say they are happy with their current phone. Digital skills/literacy issues also play a prominent role, as 9% of non-smartphone users say that they have not upgraded because smartphones are too complicated and/or they don’t know how to use them.

Indeed, just 2% of non-smartphone owners responded to this question by saying that they have definite plans to purchase one in the future.

Figure 9

The reasons people give for not upgrading to a smartphone show significant variation based on age. In particular, younger non-adopters are much more likely than their elders to say that cost is the main factor preventing them from purchasing a smartphone, while older non-adopters are more likely to point towards a lack of need or interest, or towards challenges with using a more advanced device. Similarly, non-owners from higher-income households are more likely to say that they do not own a smartphone because they don’t need one — in contrast to those from lower income households, who are more likely to point towards the expense of upgrading as the primary factor standing in their way.

Figure 10

Cite this publication: Aaron Smith. “The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 30, 2012) http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/11/30/the-best-and-worst-of-mobile-connectivity/, accessed on July 23, 2014.