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Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 in Science & Technology | 6 comments

U.S. Cellphone Use: Texting, Retrieving Information Top Activities

On the same day that Google announced it was buying Motorola Mobility, Pew Internet told us that one-third of Americans now one a smartphone and that half of al cellphone owners use their phones to “get information they needed right away.”

Most of the headline writers focused on an inconsequential data point – people sometimes pretend to use their cellphones to avoid other people. Let’s look at the interesting data!


First: 83% of American adults own a mobile phone. Of those, 73% say that they have received or sent a text in the past month; that’s 61% of all American adults, an astounding change. Yes the demographic trends younger. And 50% more smartphone owners text than basic cellphone owners.

Second: the second-most common use of a cellphone today (after texting) is taking a photograph. As with texting, there’s a 50% difference between smartphone owners (92%) and cellphone owners (59%) who think of their phones as cameras. The first camera-phone combo was produced by Motorola and cost $500 in 2000 ($655 in 2011 dollars).

Third: having a device connected to the internet results in our using it for info retrieval. For smartphone owners, this is S.O.P. with 79% reporting this use; regular cellphone users, not so much (31%).

Landline subscribers peaked in 2000 in the U.S. Today we prefer the convenience of the mobile phone, the service that is minimally regulated; with 302.9 million subscribers (Dec 2010) usage has almost tripled in 10 years. The bulk is split between Verizon (104 million) and AT&T (97.5 million).

Read the full report (pdf).

pew internet cellphone use

How Americans Use Their Cellphones

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  • Interesting … and also a wee bit sad.

    I’ve worked in telecom & IT for 25 years now. Back when I started, the industry was focused on call quality & “six 9’s” reliability. We understood the phone system was critical not just for business but also for public safety. The care we put into keeping things reliable & operating in case of a crisis was evident in our daily operation.

    Today, people are perfectly happy with crap.

    Sound quality on cell phones still blows. It’s no wonder people prefer texting. And texting itself is defect-riddled. The iPhone’s legendarily bad auto-spell-correct feature, for example. Oh, and l33tspeak :shudder:.

    Comparatively, cell phone cameras also suck. Quality-wise, we’re back to the point-and-click days of the 70’s for picture quality. Digital photography has made tremendous breakthroughs over the past 15 years, but people love their craptastic cell phone cameras.

    Quality has lost to convenience and cost. I find that sad.

  • JSpencer

    I agree with Barky, especially about the sound quality. And I hate that slight delay, it wreaks havoc with the nuance cues. My decades old boat anchor dial backup has sound quality so good you’d think you’re talking with someone in the next room. I’m rarely without my cell, but I use it primarily as a (gasp) phone! The rest is 150 channels and nothing on all over again.

  • I don’t know. I’ve found texting to be a more successful way to communicate with (and harass) my daughter.

    It seems to me that the biggest downfall is that too many people forget that what their texts can be shown to others.

  • Quelcrist Falconer

    A land line requires a stable environment, a regular place to live, a cell phone requires neither, you can be homeless for years on end and still have a cell phone.

  • True, QF, but the cell phone manufacturers have given sound quality short-shrift. Not even an attempt IMO. Focused on speed (which is good) and cheap (not so good). Oh, and then there’s the environmental catastrophe of disposal phones, ni-cad batteries, etc….

  • I didn’t notice this earlier, Kathy, but “voice calls” isn’t on the list. There are some text-only devices out there, and probably a few deaf people that don’t use the voice part of the phone. I’m assuming that voice calls are the most-used feature, but it would be interesting to see it in the list anyway.

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