The rise of mobile digital devices has already altered the environment of local news and information. Traditional news organizations and other community-based information providers are trying to respond to audience interest with pervasive, portable, real-time local information. To understand this changing information environment, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project conducted a national survey in partnership with the Knight Foundation. The survey used both landline and cellphones. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish from January 12 to 25, 2011, and involved 2,251 adults ages 18 and older. Our aim was to explore the role that cellphones and tablet computers play in people’s patterns of consuming and contributing to community information. A major share of the funding for the survey came from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; its senior leaders participated in constructing the survey and assessing the data.
Cellphone usage has already penetrated deep into American society. Fully 84% of American adults own a cellphone, a figure that has remained relatively stable since mid-2008. Now tablets are spreading quickly as well. Indeed, the survey finds that tablet computers such as the iPad, which have existed less than a year, have become one of the most quickly adopted consumer goods of the recent era; tablet penetration almost doubled in just four months’ time, from 4% to 7% now. (As virtually all iPad owners are also cellphone users, the total population of mobile device owners (cellphone and/or tablet users) is 84%.
Two-thirds of cellphone users take advantage of mobile phone features such as texting, e-mailing, web browsing and “apps” (software applications that allow mobile device users to play games, access web content and access media or data). Only a third of Americans now say they use their cellphones just for phone calls, according to the survey.