Seeding The Cloud: What Mobile Access Means for Usage Patterns and Online Content

Mar 05, 2008

It only takes a trip to a coffee shop or a stroll down the street to see how prevalent wireless devices are these days. Our recent research shows that 62% of American adults have either accessed the internet wirelessly or used non-voice data applications, such as texting, emailing, taking a picture, or recording video, with a handheld. On the average day, 42% of those with cell phones or other wireless-enabled handhelds use the devices for at least one non-voice data application.

With the Federal Communications Commission auctioning spectrum well-suited for high-speed wireless applications, and with some companies beginning to open up handheld devices to application developers, more innovations in wireless access are on the horizon. In particular, "cloud computing" will emerge in the coming years -- moving applications and data storage away from the desktop or laptop to remote servers managed by high-speed networks. Computing applications and users' data archives will increasingly be accessible by different devices anytime, anywhere over fast and widely available wireless and wired networks.

It is hard to overstate the importance of online access becoming decoupled from desktop computing. In 1998, when one third of adults had online access, a desktop computer and monitor cost about $1,800. This meant that upper income Americans and, as it happened, mostly men, used computers and the internet. The result was online content that served the demographic profile of early users -- lots of news from services such as Prodigy and so-called e-zines such as Feed which focused on news, culture, and technology. Even the cutting-edge at the time was oriented to news. Remember PointCast, the hot application of 1996 that used push technology? PointCast delivered news headlines to users' desktops, but proved to be a difficult application to run on dial-up internet connections.

In the dial-up era, the cost of the access device tilted the demographic profile of early adopters toward the upscale, which in turn influenced the content developed for the internet.

Read the full analysis Seeding The Cloud: What Mobile Access Means for Usage Patterns and Online Content on the Pew Internet & American Life Web site.

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