Six in 10 Americans are going online wirelessly using a laptop or a cell phone, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center. U.S. mobile-device users are also taking advantage of a much wider range of data applications than last year, the new report said.
Nearly half of all U.S. adults surveyed this year during April and May said they were using a laptop equipped with a Wi-Fi radio or mobile broadband card -- up from 39 percent in April 2009. However, 40 percent indicated they were also accessing the Internet, e-mail or instant messaging on mobile phones, noted Aaron Smith, the author of the report.
"The growing functionality of mobile phones makes them ever more powerful devices for on-the-go communications and computing," Smith said. "Cell phones have become for many owners an all-purpose chat-text-gaming-photo-sharing media hub that is an essential utility for work and a really fancy toy for fun."
The Demographic Divide
U.S. adults between 18 and 29 had the highest levels of mobile data application use among all survey age groups, with more than 90 percent of those respondents saying they snap photos as well as send or receive text messages with their phones. What's more, 81 percent said they use their handsets to exchange photos or video clips with others. Additionally, more than 60 percent use their devices to access the Internet, listen to music, or play games.
Cell-phone owners between the ages of 30 and 49 are also significantly more likely to use a range of mobile data applications on a handheld device than older handset users, Smith wrote. For example, 83 percent of the respondents in this demographic group said they now take pictures with their phones -- a 12-point increase from 2009.
Between 35 percent and 39 percent of middle-aged handset users also report using their phones to record videos, play music, or engage in instant-messaging sessions. And 43 percent said they have been accessing the Internet on their phones.
When it comes to the use of cell-phone data applications, African-Americans and 18-29 year-olds led the field, but older adults are also gaining ground, Smith observed. "Additionally, black and Latino cell-phone owners take advantage of a much wider array of their phones' data functions compared to white cell-phone owners," Smith wrote.
Cell-phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among Caucasians, Smith observed. Minority cell-phone owners are also taking advantage of a much greater range of mobile features, with 64 percent of African-Americans accessing the Internet from a laptop or mobile phone -- a seven-point increase from 2009.
Growing Laptop Adoption
The Pew report indicates that laptops have become nearly as common as desktop computers. "As we have found in previous research, 18-29-year-olds are one of the few groups more likely to own a laptop than a desktop, although 30-49-year-olds are rapidly approaching that point as well," Smith wrote.
What's more, laptop ownership among African-Americans has grown from 34 percent in 2009 to 51 percent earlier this year. Though the percentage of Caucasians owning laptops also rose moderately from 47 percent to 55 percent, laptop ownership among English-speaking Latinos remained flat, Smith wrote.
Nine percent of the 2,252 U.S. adults Pew surveyed in late April and May reported going online using an MP3 player, e-book reader, or tablet. "However, these devices largely play a supporting role for Americans who already access the Internet wirelessly using a laptop computer or cell phone," Smith wrote.