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Grow Your Business Technology

Cell Phones are Americans' Gadget of Choice

When it comes to personal communications devices, the cell phone remains the gadget of choice for most Americans, a recent study shows. But as another survey suggests, we don’t use them just to make phone calls.

A full 85 percent of all adults now own a mobile phone, according to a new Pew Research Center report, called “Americans and Their Gadgets.”  For young adults, the cell phone has become a necessity of modern communication, with 96 percent of 14- to 29- year-olds owning a cell phone of some kind.

But for cell phones, text messages — also known as SMS (Short Message Service) — trump voice calls, according to new research by Nielsen Mobile.  Every month, the typical U.S. mobile subscriber receives or sends more text messages than phone calls. In the two-year period from 2006 to 2008 that Nielsen researchers looked at, text messages increased by 450 percent. Over the same period, mobile phone call usage was flat. This is a seismic shift in how we use our mobile devices.

Running a close second to the cell phone on Pew’s gadget list is the computer itself. Three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans own either a desktop or laptop computer. Researchers also found a similar shift in device preference, if not usage. As the Internet has increasingly gone mobile, desktop use has fallen slightly since 2006 while the propagation of laptop computers has increased dramatically — from 30 percent in April 2006 to 52 percent in September 2010.

As with most things digital, the Pew study found, youth leads. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of 18- to 29-year-olds own a laptop computer, compared with 56 percent who own desktop computers.

Devices that are mostly used for entertainment, such as MP3 players and game consoles, have not achieved the same degree of penetration as cell phones and computers, the study found.  Just under half of American adults (47 percent) own an MP3 player such as an iPod or Zune. But this category has experienced a nearly fivefold increase from the 11 percent who owned one of these devices in 2005.

Console gaming devices such as the Xbox and PlayStation are nearly as common as MP3 players, with 42 percent of Americans owning one these consoles. Not surprisingly, parents (64 percent) are nearly twice as likely as non-parents (33 percent) to own a game console.

The new kids on the digital device block—such as tablet computers like the iPad and e-book readers such as the Kindle—are owned by relatively few Americans so far, the study found. But they are proving popular with traditional early-adopter groups such as the affluent and highly educated; ownership rates for tablets and e-book readers among college graduates and those earning $75,000 or more per year are roughly double the national average.

The number of devices one owns is heavily correlated with age, the Pew researchers found. Overall, 78 percent of adults own two or more of these devices. But the typical adult younger than 45 owns four devices, while the typical adult between the ages of 55 and 64 owns two and the typical senior age 65 or older owns just one.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@TechMediaNetwork.com. Follow him on twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.