Mobile Commerce

How “Smartphone-Dependent” are Americans?

Do you have a dependent, perhaps slightly complicated relationship with your smartphone? You’re not alone.

The Pew Research Center, in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has released detailed findings from a series of surveys on the current state of smartphone ownership in America.

Two overarching takeaways from the study are that close to two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19 percent of Americans — to one degree or another — rely on a smartphone for its Internet connectivity.

The report takes a particular focus on what it calls the “smartphone-dependent” population: the 7 percent of Americans who own a smartphone but have access to no other traditional service for going online, such as a broadband connection.

Identified by the study are three groups of Americans who rely most heavily on smartphones for online access: younger adults (ages 15-29), at 15 percent; those with low household incomes (less than $30,000 per year), at 13 percent; and non-whites, with 12 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Latinos deemed smartphone-dependent (compared to 4 percent of white Americans).

The study bore out that nearly half (48 percent) of smartphone-dependent Americans have had to cancel or shut off their cellphone service at some point due to financial hardship, while 30 percent of those polled expressed that they “frequently” max out their data plan.

A majority (68 percent) of smartphone owners surveyed reported that they use their phone to follow breaking news and to stay informed about their local community. 67 percent use their phone at least occasionally for turn-by-turn navigation while driving, with 31 percent stating that they do so “frequently.”

Fifty-four percent of smartphone owners described their phone as “not always needed,” but on the contrary, 46 percent said that it is something that they “couldn’t live without.” Of those who pay more than $200 a month for service, 29 percent said that it is a “financial burden.”

In the “experience sampling” portion of the study, it was determined that text messaging is the most widely-used smartphone feature…but a majority of people — including young smartphone owners — still often use their devices to make phone calls (be it video or voice). Additionally, the survey showed that young users are most likely to use a smartphone to avoid boredom, as well as to ignore fellow human beings in their midst.

Exhibiting the double-edged sword of smartphone ownership, 79 percent of those polled said that their devices made them feel “productive” (with 77 percent choosing the term “happy”), but 57 percent reported that their phone made them feel “distracted” (with 37 percent settling on “frustrated”).

The results of the Pew Research Center poll were based based on telephone surveys that were conducted among 2,002 adults from Dec.4-7 and Dec. 18-21, 2014.

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