PEW Research Center Surveys US Smartphone Use

Pew smartphone 2

The PEW Research Center has released a new survey on the US usage of smartphones. The overview draws from surveys performed in October and December of 2014 and the report covers the use and ownership of smartphones by age groups, gender, race, as well as education and income level. The report says that 64% of Americans now own a smartphone, which is up from 58% in early 2014.

The study is based on telephone, web and mail based surveys. In October the company surveyed 3,181 US residents and the December survey covered 2,002 adults. Overall the surveys have about a +/- 2.5 % point error.

The survey shows not only a growing number of US residents owning a smartphone, it also sees that for a growing number of people the smartphone is the main means for accessing the internet. This is based on the result that 15% have only limited options for online access and 10% have no broadband service at home. This pertains mostly to younger adults, lower income as well as non-white parts of the population.

Use of the smartphone includes many tasks that have been historically home-based activities. 62% have used their smartphone for looking up information about their health, 57% have done online banking, 44% have looked up real estate information and 43% have searched for a job. It seems that the smartphone has taken over some of the tasks previously relegated to the home PC.

Unsurprisingly, there are also differences on how certain functionalities are used by different age groups. While some of the functions, such as text messaging, internet, email use and video calls have high usage rates regardless of the age of the user, others show a much larger discrepancy.

Pew smartphone 1

Social networking, watching video and listening to music seem to be activities that are more enjoyed by the younger crowd. However, 75% of the 18 to 29 year age group has used their smartphone for watching videos already. This number could very well grow in coming years as more video streaming services increase the content offering. This may also affect the age distribution as additional content may also attract more older viewers.

If you ever had the feeling that in today’s world the smartphone is a barrier between the user and the rest of the world, you are absolutely correct. Almost half of the 18 to 29 year old group says that they are using smartphones to avoid others around them. Even though a much higher percentage admits to using their smartphones as time wasters to avoid being bored. This certainly explains the success and abundance of smartphone games.

Pew smartphone 3

The survey also points out that the majority of people view the smartphone as a positive thing instead of seeing the negative side. While about half say they can’t live without it, 93% see it as helpful and 80% as worth the cost.

Analyst Comment

From a market penetration perspective this would indicate that the penetration rates will continue to grow in the USA. Some of the growing uses for smartphones, like social networking, music and video access, also show the demand for higher bandwidth and better phones with more processing power and storage. It may also explain to a certain degree why larger screen sizes have been so successful in recent years.

While the survey clearly only covers the USA, we can speculate that usage patterns in other western countries will not be that different after all. How smartphones are used in Asian and developing countries may be very different depending on the available infrastructure. – NH