Apple’s iPhone and iTouch sold 57 million units in 28 months, according to Morgan Stanley’s The Mobile Internet Report.
Smartphones and other Internet-ready handheld devices have gained immense popularity. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 83 percent of people own cell phones or smartphones and 35 percent of people have gone on the Internet with their phones.
“I go on there for everything,” said Ashley Cox of her mobile Internet phone, “I’m on it everyday, all day.” African Americans are the most active users of mobile Internet. On an average day 29 percent of African Americans used mobile Internet in 2009, which is up 141 percent from 2007. In 2009 the national average was only 19 percent.
“Mobile Internet expands people’s realization of the power of the Internet,” said, Michael Morgan, an industry analyst on mobile devices for ABI Research, “you know you can be connected to information wherever you are.”
“Wireless Internet is the most pervasive device you can imagine,” said Justin Shi, the associate chair of Temple University’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences. Wireless Internet constitutes the last mile of Internet connectivity said Shi, it connects those who are hard reach through wired networks.
Wireless Internet is becoming the connection of choice for the majority of Americans. In 2009, 56 percent of Americans accessed the Internet wirelessly, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
“I go online with my phone a lot, maybe every hour to check my e-mail,” said Rod Quemuel, a smartphone user. Quemuel uses his phone to do research, check Facebook and look up directions.
People generally use their mobile Internet to check general information, such as e-mail, weather, news, social media and web searches, according to Morgan. The most popular use of mobile Internet is music, 65 percent of iPhone users and 35 percent of smartphone users access music online. Gaming, social networking and web searching round out the top four uses of mobile Internet, according to The Mobile Internet Report.
James Thomas, a mobile Internet user, said, “I use it for things that have something to do with the city, like SEPTA bus schedules.” Thomas also uses it to entertain his daughter when traveling. She can play games and watch movies using his phone.
“Mobile access strengthens the three pillars of online engagement: connecting with others, satisfying information queries, and sharing content with others,” John B. Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said in a press release. “With access in their pockets, many Americans are ‘on the fly’ consumers and producers of digital information.”
According to Ruder Finn’s Mobile Intent Index, which is updated quarterly, 91 percent of mobile Internet users go online to socialize compared to 79 percent of traditional desktop users. However, mobile Internet users are 1.4 times less likely to educate themselves using their phones.
Traditional computers are used for serious and productive work; where as, mobile devices are becoming the dominant platform for entertainment, according to the Mobile Internet Report. Also, the smartphone’s popularity is growing so quickly that within five years more users may connect to the Internet via mobile device that with a traditional computer.
Mobile Internet is helping to bridge the digital divide. “Mobile Internet is allowing people who couldn’t afford any web access something,” said Morgan. “It’s the cheapest, easiest, and best way to get them the power of the Internet.” Cox and Thomas only access the Internet through their smartphones, and they do not feel the need to get a home broadband connection.
Cost, convenience and portability are of the three main determinants when purchasing mobile Internet versus home broadband.
“Its a lot easier and a lot more accessible,” said Thomas. “Also, I can take it anywhere.”
“It’s cheaper,” said Cox when asked why she chose mobile Internet.
Home broadband use is more prevalent in homes with higher incomes, whereas low-income households turn to using wireless Internet. 73 percent of households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 have home broadband access. Comparatively only 42 percent of households with incomes less than $30,000 have home broadband. Approximately 43 percent of Philadelphians live in households with incomes below $30,000. Mobile Internet is what can provide access to those who cannot afford home access.
“I prefer my laptop for Internet,” said Quemuel, “with mobile phones you can’t see all the features with a laptop.” Quemuel only uses his mobile Internet for basic searches.
While mobile Internet helps to close the digital divide as far as access to information is concerned, it does little to help with actual computer skills. “Mobile Internet offers no keyboard or mouse experience,” said Morgan. These are essential skills when using a traditional computer and are important skills in the workforce. However, Morgan added that helping people understand the value of the Internet is just as important as technical skills in the bridging the digital divide.
Shi believes that currently mobile phones do not have the capability to close the digital divide, but that may change in the future. As the technology develops, mobile devices will become people’s primary computing platform.
“In short the smartphone is becoming the PC, the PC is becoming the sever, the server is becoming the cloud, and the cloud is becoming the new app store,” according to the Mobile Internet Report.
According to the eMarketer, a research firm, the total number of mobile Internet users is expected to reach 134 million people by 2013.