Phones Are Either Swiss Army Knives Or Cameras
The Pew Research Center study released Wednesday on wireless Internet use showed steady gains in the proportion of people accessing the mobile Web.
Nearly one-third (32%) of participants surveyed have used the Internet on a handheld device, up from 24% two years ago. And 69% said they had done one of 10 different non-voice activities, including texting, taking a picture, checking email and watching a video, compared to 58% in late 2007.
The top-line figures might give the impression that the majority of Americans are using their cell phones habitually like Swiss Army knives for messaging and media consumption. But a closer look at individual non-voice activities indicates higher-end categories aren't growing so fast and remain limited to a small share of users.
Text-messaging is still by far the most common activity, with 43% thumbing away on cell phones or PDAs on a typical day, up from 31% in 2007. But the proportion of people regularly recording or watching a video via handheld is stuck at 3%. Those playing games on mobile only inched up to 9% from 8%. Playing music went up from 7% to 12%, but still remains just a fraction of users.
When it comes to mobile video, it seems a small percentage of early adopters account for a disproportionate amount of use-not unlike broadband via PC. According to Nielsen's "Three Screen Report" released in May, time spent with mobile video among its users was three hours and 37 minutes a month--higher even than Web video use (3 hours a month).
That suggests the potential video viewers can be as loyal on cell phones as computers, but video and other media categories still have a long way to go to catch up with the sizes of audience they draw on the wired Web. But keep in mind that any audience gains for mobile media often come in spite of, rather than because of the technology.
Because of the desire for ubiquitous access to messaging and media, "people are willing to endure a quality of experience that will be better in a couple of years," said John Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet Project.