Computers have been the most popular way to access the Internet for years but, with the rise of smartphones, that’s starting to change. While people in developing nations have relied on smartphones for Internet access almost exclusively, computers are still dominant in the developed world. According to the Pew Research Center, however, that’s starting to change as now more than 1/5 of Americans use smartphones as their only gateway to the Internet.
The traditional notion of “going online” often evokes images of a desktop or laptop computer with a full complement of features, such as a large screen, mouse, keyboard, wires, and a dedicated high-speed connection. But for many Americans, the reality of the online experience is substantially different. Today nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them — either because they lack broadband at home, or because they have few options for online access other than their cell phone. Indeed, 7% of Americans own a smartphone but have neither traditional broadband service at home, nor easily available alternatives for going online other than their cell phone. This report documents the unique circumstances of this “smartphone-dependent” population, and also explores the ways in which smartphone owners use their phones to engage in a wide range of activities.