June 26, 2012

Cell Internet Use 2012

17% of cell phone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than a computer or other device

Some 88% of U.S. adults own a cell phone of some kind as of April 2012, and more than half of these cell owners (55%) use their phone to go online. We call these individuals “cell internet users” throughout this report, and this represents a notable increase from the 31% of cell owners who said that they used their phone to go online as recently as April 2009.

Moreover, 31% of these current cell internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone, and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer. That works out to 17% of all adult cell owners who are “cell-mostly internet users”—that is, who use their phone for most of their online browsing.

Chart 1

Young adults and non-whites are especially likely to use their cell phones for the majority of their online activity:

  • Nearly half of all 18-29 year olds (45%) who use the internet on their cell phones do most of their online browsing on their mobile device.
  • Half (51%) of African-American cell internet users do most of their online browsing on their phone, double the proportion for whites (24%). Two in five Latino cell internet users (42%) also fall into the “cell-mostly” category.

Additionally, those with an annual household income of less than $50,000 per year and those who have not graduated college are more likely than those with higher levels of income and education to use their phones for most of their online browsing.

When asked for the main reason why they conduct most of their online browsing on a mobile phone, these cell-mostly users point to three major factors:

  • Cell phones are convenient, always available – 64% of cell-mostly internet users mention factors related to convenience or the always-available nature of mobile phones when asked for the main reason why they do most of their online browsing on their cell phone.
  • Cell phones better fit people’s usage habits – 18% of cell-mostly internet users say that their online habits (or the habits of those around them) make their cell phone a simpler, more effective choice for going online. Just under one in ten (7%) say that they do mostly basic activities when they go online and do not require a more advanced device, while 6% say that they simply find their cell phone to be easier to use than a traditional computer.
  • Cell phones fill access gaps – 10% of cell-mostly internet users point towards a lack of other access options as the main reason why they primarily use their phone to go online, with 6% saying that they do not have access to a computer and 4% saying that they do not have any other source of internet access beyond their mobile connection.

About this survey

These are the findings from a national telephone survey conducted March 15-April 3, 2012 among 2,254 adults age 18 and over, including 903 interviews conducted on the respondent’s cell phone. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for all cell phone owners (n=1,954) is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, and the margin of error for cell phone owners who go online using their phones (n=929) is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.