The ability to reach the right person at the right time in the right place has long been the promise of location-based services. But how large is the addressable audience for location services? According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 28% of U.S. adults use mobile and social location-based services.
Among cell owners, 28% use their devices to get location-based directions and recommendations -- or 23% of all U.S. adults. But the study found that social location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla are still far less popular, with only 5% of mobile users (or 4% of all adults) using them to check in to bars, stores or other venues. (A survey Pew released last November found that 4% of the online adult population used geolocation services.)
Relatively few people are tagging their whereabouts via social networking sites.
Only 9% of Internet users (7% of all adults) set up social properties such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn so that their location is automatically appended to their posts. Facebook took steps to integrate location-sharing more tightly into its core offering when it announced phasing out the mobile-only Places feature.
Usage figures shoot up when looking only at smartphone owners -- who now make up 42% of all adult U.S. mobile users, and 35% of the entire adult population, according to Pew. The share of people using Foursquare and other geolocation services on smartphones increases to 12% -- almost as many as access Twitter (15%). More than half (55%) have used some kind of location-based information service, and 58% use at least one of type of location offering.
When it comes to demographic differences, people 18-49 tend to use geosocial and location-based services more than those 50 and over, by a split of about 60% to 45%. But there is hardly any gap between the 18-29 and 30-49 age groups, with roughly six out of 10 in both segments using location tools.
There was also little difference by gender in relation to use of check-in services and getting location-based directions or recommendations. But male social media users were far more likely than their female counterparts to set up their social networking site or Twitter account to automatically include location in their posts: 19% compared to 10%.
Automatic location-sharing is most popular with minorities, continuing a trend of higher mobile activity rates among non-whites seen in prior Pew studies. Nearly one-third (31%) of Hispanics who use social media, for instance, automatically tag their location, and a quarter use check-in services. That compares to 10% and 7% of whites, respectively.
While Foursquare and its ilk may not be so popular with white smartphone owners, 59% still use location services to get information about nearby places or directions.
In terms of income, smartphone owners in households making less than $75,000 per year are somewhat more likely to use geosocial services. Conversely, getting location-based information is slightly more popular among those who make over that amount. Among social media users, automatic location tagging is most popular with those in the lowest income bracket, who earn less than $30,000.
"Americans are not currently all that eager to share explicitly their location on social media sites, but they are taking advantage of their phones' geolocation capabilities in other ways," stated Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Internet Project research specialist and co-author of the report. "Smartphone owners are using their phones to get fast access to location-relevant information on the go."
Nielsen estimates that about 37% of mobile users have smartphones, with that proportion projected to surpass 50% by year's-end. The Pew report was based on the results of a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,277 Americans ages 18 and over conducted between April 26 and May 22. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, by landline and cell phone.