Will smart phones replace your Internet connection?

It was only a few years ago that people, in large numbers, began doing away with telephone land lines and relying solely on their cell phones for calls, marking a fundamental shift in the way people lived.

Now, the same thing could be underway with their Internet connections.

A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that not only are smart phones multiplying like Tribbles, but that a growing number of people use the phones as their primary access devices to the Internet.


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Pew’s survey, its first to concentrate strictly on smart phones, found that 35 percent of Americans own one. 

Considering that the adult population of the United States stands at about 206.8 million, that’s about 72.4 million smart phones loose on the streets. And 25 percent of those smart-phone owners say they use the Internet mostly via their phone, rather than using a computer.

The “smart phone mostly” folks have other ways to get online, the survey report states, but about one-third of them do not have a high-speed broadband connection at home. That would seem to indicate that, like the people who gave up telephone land lines (and these are probably the some of the same people here), they’re just fine doing without a conventional Internet hook-up.

However, one reason for living online via the smart phone appears to be economic. Although the study found that smart-phone ownership was common among the well-off and educated, using smart phone for primary Internet access was most common among under-30, non-white smart-phone users, and smart-phone owners with relatively low income and education levels.

Even if it’s not their primary means of access, overall, 87 percent of smart-phone users say they use their phones to access the Internet or e-mail (just as an aside: Why do the other 13 percent own a smart phone?) and 68 percent say they use their phones to go online during a typical day.

And the most popular platforms? Android, iPhone and BlackBerry, in that order.

The survey found that 35 percent of smart-phone owners and 15 percent of all cell-phone owners use Android devices. The iPhone and BlackBerry had identical numbers, 24 percent of smart phones and 10 percent of cell phones; Palm’s share was 6 percent and 2 percent, and Windows phones brought up the rear, with 4 percent and 2 percent.

Smart phones can’t do it all, of course, especially when it comes to work, but as their use continues to spread — and apps for them continue to improve — it’s certainly conceivable that they could become the One Device for some people. 

Beyond using them for Internet access, e-mail, messaging and social media participation, The Nielsen Co.’s first-quarter report for 2011 found that they’re even becoming popular for watching TV.

After the Internet, TV (movies, too) and the occasional actual phone conversation, in modern life, what’s left?

Reader Comments

Thu, Jul 14, 2011 BrianK Honolulu HI

I use my personal computer at home for continuing education. I consider broadband access required, because of security updates, and the co-related program patches.

To me, mobile web access is a luxury in both money and time. I have a smart phone, but use it only to replace POTS functionality.

I even decline to use the camera, and still use film cameras. It's cheaper for me the casual user. Less relearning and hardware upgrades.


Thu, Jul 14, 2011 Tom WI

We are another family of 4 getting cheap flip phones and using the leftover smartphones on wi-fi for browsing, as media player, game machine, pda, blah, blah, blah. Carriers have to figure out how to get me back with an unlimited data plan from costing less than $30/month. Enough of the $4000/year family cell phone plan!

Thu, Jul 14, 2011 slwerner

"...a growing number of people use the phones as their primary access devices to the Internet."Well, that's about to change as carriers are doing away with their unlimited data plans, and going to tiered ones. When 5 Gb/month begins to cost $50, then the home internet connections seem much more worthwhile.

Thu, Jul 14, 2011 Jonathan Green Alabama

The major mobile phone providers are making this impractical now with 2gb limits and doing away with unlimited data plans.

Thu, Jul 14, 2011

With tiered data plans, cellphone data usage has ironically gotten to be very expensive - Verizon is charging $30/2Gig and $80 for 10 gig. With my kids watching Netflix movies and telecommuting from home, our home Internet connection used 71 Gigs of data. To avoid overage charges, we also rely on our home wi-fi for our phones also. So as mobile cellular data plans get more expensive, and with home wi-fi access running much faster than mobile data, it is a no-brainer that the home Internet line is here to stay.

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