When the Pew Research Center began studying the social impact of the internet in 2000, the act of going online was typically a stationary activity. Users would sit down at a computer, log in to the internet (often using a dial-up connection), look up whatever information or services they were interested in, and then continue with their lives.

Today, people increasingly are accessing online services and information throughout the day, whenever and wherever they happen to be — and smartphones are often the primary vehicle for this “on the go” access. Previous Pew Research surveys have examined a number of different aspects of mobile phone ownership, from the activities that users engage in with their phones to their attitudes about the benefits and limitations of their devices. Other surveys have found that around one in ten Americans own a smartphone but lack traditional home broadband service, and that roughly one in five cell phone owners conduct most of their online browsing using their cell phone, rather than a computer or similar device.

This report builds on this existing body of research by conducting a deep examination of the state of smartphone ownership in America today.

Chapter One discusses the demographics of smartphone ownership, how much users pay for service, the problems they encounter in using their devices, and their attitudes towards their phones. This chapter also focuses on the extent to which many users depend on their smartphones for online access, and the sometimes-tenuous nature of these mobile connections.

Chapter Two looks more deeply at the ways in which smartphone owners use their phones to access services and information, with a particular focus on news, community information, and smartphones as a vehicle for navigating important life events (such as finding a new job or getting information about a health condition).

Chapter Three is based on a time-use survey in which smartphone owners were tracked over the course of one week and surveyed about how, where, and to what effect they were using their phones. This analysis allows for a more fine-grained look at how smartphone owners use their devices on a day-to-day basis, with a specific focus on differences between different age groups.