Mobile Internet Use Increases Sharply in 2009

Contact: John B. Horrigan, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 202.419.4500


Washington, DC - 07/22/2009 - An April 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that 56% of adult Americans have accessed the internet by wireless means, such as using a laptop, mobile device, game console, or MP3 player. The most prevalent way people get online using a wireless network is with a laptop computer; 39% of adults have done this.

The report also finds rising levels of Americans using the internet on a mobile handset. One-third of Americans (32%) have used a cell phone or Smartphone to access the internet for emailing, instant-messaging, or information-seeking. This level of mobile internet is up by one-third since December 2007, when 24% of Americans had ever used the internet on a mobile device. On the typical day, nearly one-fifth (19%) of Americans use the internet on a mobile device, up substantially from the 11% level recorded in December 2007. That’s a growth of 73% in the 16 month interval between surveys.

“Mobile access strengthens the three pillars of online engagement: connecting with others, satisfying information queries, and sharing content with others,” said John B. Horrigan, Associate Director of the Pew Internet Project and principal author of the report. “With access in their pockets, many Americans are ‘on the fly’ consumers and producers of digital information.”

The report, entitled “Wireless Internet Use,” also found that African Americans are the most active users of the mobile internet. Nearly half (48%) of African Americans have at one time used the internet on a mobile device, and on the average day 29% go online with a handheld – both figures are half again the national average. Moreover, the growth in mobile handheld online use on the average day since 2007 for African Americans is twice the national average – 141% for African Americans versus the 73% average.

“The notion of a digital divide for African Americans has some resonance when thinking about the wireline internet,” said Horrigan. “But when you introduce the mobile internet, the picture changes and African Americans are the pace setters.”

The report also found a growth in a broader measure of mobile engagement, as more Americans in 2009 were turning to their handheld for non-voice data activities. The activities probed were: sending or receiving text messages, taking a picture, playing a game, checking email, accessing the internet, recording video, instant messaging, playing music, getting maps or directions, or watching video.

  • In 2009, 69% of all adult Americans said they had ever done at least one of the ten activities versus 58% who did this in late 2007.
  • In 2009, 44% of all adult Americans said they had done at least one of the non-voice data activities on the typical day, up from 32% in 2007.
When asked to assess what mobile access means when they are away from home or work, about half of wireless users cite staying in touch with others or being able to dig for information on the go. However, some say such access lets them share content with others as they go about their daily lives. Specifically, among cell phone or wireless laptop users:

  • Half (50%) say it is very important to them to have mobile access in order to stay in touch with other people.
  • Nearly the same share (46%) says they mobile access is very important for getting online information on the go.
  • One in six (17%) say mobile access is very important to them so they can share or post online content while away from home or work.
Wireless internet access using other devices, though much less common than with laptops or handhelds, has a foothold among some Americans. The April 2009 survey found that:

  • 45% of adults have iPods or MP3 players and 5% of all adults have used such a device to go online.
  • 41% of adults have game consoles and 9% of adults have used it to access the internet.
  • 14% of adults have a personal digital assistant, and 7% of adults have used it for online access.
  • 2% of adults have an e-book (i.e., a Kindle or Sony reader) and 1% of adults have used it to get online.
Overall, 17% of adults have used at least one of the four access means listed above to go online.

The Pew Internet Project’s April 2009 survey interviewed 2,253 Americans, with 561 interviewed on their cell phones. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. Some 1,687 respondents in the sample were internet users and the margin of error in that cohort is plus or minus three percentage points and 1,818 respondents were cell phone users and the margin of error for that group is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Read the complete survey Wireless Internet Use on the Pew Internet & American Life Project's Web site.

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