The use of mobile data applications has grown dramatically over the last year, even as overall cell phone ownership has remained steady
Eight in ten American adults (82%) currently own a cell phone of some kind, a figure that has remained fairly stable over the past year. Since a similar point in 2006, the proportion of Americans with a mobile phone has risen by nine percentage points.
While overall mobile phone ownership has not grown over the last year, cell owners now take advantage of a much wider range of their phones’ capabilities. Compared to when we asked these questions in April 2009, mobile phone owners are significantly more likely to use their phones to take pictures (76% now do this, up from 66% in April 2009); send or receive text messages (72% vs. 65%); play games (34% vs. 27%); send or receive email (34% vs. 25%); access the internet (38% vs. 25%); play music (33% vs. 21%); send or receive instant messages (30% vs. 20%); and record a video (34% vs. 19%).
Along with these eight activities, we also asked about seven additional cell phone data applications for the first time in our 2010 survey. Among all cell phone owners:
- 54% have used their mobile device to send someone a photo or video
- 23% have accessed a social networking site using their phone
- 20% have used their phone to watch a video
- 15% have posted a photo or video online
- 11% have purchased a product using their phone
- 11% have made a charitable donation by text message
- 10% have used their mobile phone to access a status update service such as Twitter
Young adults are much more likely than their elders to use mobile data applications, but cell phone access is becoming more prevalent among 30-49 year olds
Picture-taking and texting are near-ubiquitous among young adult cell phone owners. Fully 95% of cell-owning 18-29 year olds use the text messaging feature on their phones, and 93% use their mobile devices to take pictures. Since nine in ten young adults own a cell phone, that means that 85% of all 18-29 year olds text, and 83% take photos using a cell phone. Young adult cell phone owners are significantly more likely to do all of the other mobile data applications we asked about in our survey relative to older cell owners—often by fairly dramatic margins.
Although young adults are significantly more likely than all other age groups to use non-voice data applications on their mobile devices, these services are growing more popular among older adults (specifically, those ages 30-49). Compared with a similar point in 2009, cell owners ages 30-49 are significantly more likely to use their mobile phone to:
- Take pictures (83% of cell owners ages 30-49 now do this, compared with 71% in April 2009)
- Send or receive text messages (82% vs. 75%)
- Access the internet (43% vs. 31%)
- Record a video (39% vs. 21%)
- Send or receive email (37% vs. 30%)
- Play music (36% vs. 21%)
- Send or receive instant messages (35% vs. 21%)
Out of the eight mobile data activities we measured in both 2009 and 2010, playing games was the only one for which 30-49 year olds did not experience significant year-to-year growth—37% of cell owners ages 30-49 currently play games on a mobile phone, compared with the 32% who did so in 2009.
Minority Americans continue to outpace whites in their use of cell phone data applications
As we found in previous research on this topic, minority cell owners are significantly more likely than whites to use most non-voice data applications on their mobile devices. They also take advantage of a wider range of mobile phone features compared with whites. On average, white cell phone owners use 3.8 of the thirteen activities we measured, while black cell owners use an average of 5.4 and English-speaking Latinos use an average of 5.8 non-voice data applications.
Additional mobile data applications – sharing multimedia content and texting charitable donations
In a separate survey, we asked about two additional mobile activities—half of cell owners (54%) have used their mobile device to send a photo or video to someone else, and one in ten (11%) have made a charitable donation by text message.
As with the other mobile data applications discussed above, both of these activities are particularly common among young cell owners and minority Americans (particularly Latinos). Fully 81% of cell owners ages 18-29 have used their phone to send a photo or video to someone else, significant higher the proportion of cell owners ages 30-49 (63%), 50-64 (40%) or 65+ (18%) who have done so. Young cell owners are also more likely than cell owners in other age groups to make a charitable donation using the text messaging feature on their phones (19% of cell owners ages 18-29 have done so, compared with 10% of 30-49 year olds, 8% of 50-64 year olds and just 4% of cell owners 65 and up).
In terms of racial/ethnic comparisons, Latino cell phone owners are especially likely to do both of these activities using their mobile devices. Among cell owners, 70% of English-speaking Latinos have sent someone a photo or video (compared with 58% of African-Americans and 50% of whites) and 23% have made a charitable donation via text message (compared with 16% of African-Americans and 7% of whites).
More than half of mobile web users go online from their phones on a daily basis
In addition to being a growing proportion of the overall cell phone population, users of the mobile web now go online more frequently using their handheld devices than they did as recently as last year. More than half of all mobile internet users go online from their handheld devices on a daily basis—43% do so several times a day, and 12% do so about once a day. At a similar point in 2009, just 24% of mobile internet users went online several times a day.
Among mobile internet users, frequency of use is highest among the affluent and well-educated, as well as Latinos. Among those who go online using a handheld device 55% of English-speaking Hispanics, 52% of college graduates and 56% of those with a household income of $75,000 or more per year use their cell phone to go online several times a day. Young adults are also intense mobile internet users—52% of those ages 18-29 who go online using a cell phone do so several times a day, and an additional 17% do so about once a day—although 43% of mobile web users ages 30-49 go online multiple times a day.