Tablets and Phones - Flickr

Smartphone ownership by Americans increased 33 percent, and tablet ownership increased 42 percent in the last five years according to recently released survey data from the Pew Research Center. As of 2015, 68 percent of U.S. adults have a smartphone and 45 percent own a tablet. Smartphone ownership is nearing the saturation point with some groups: 86 percent of those ages 18-29 have a smartphone, as do 83 percent of those ages 30-49 and 87 percent of those living in households earning $75,000 and up annually. These changes are all taking place in a world where smartphones are transforming into all-purpose devices that can take the place of specialized technology, such as music players, e-book readers and gaming devices. There is even a Kickstarter campaign in the works to fund the development of a 3D scanner for smartphones.

Although smartphone and tablet ownership increased, the survey suggests the adoption of some digital devices has slowed and even declined in recent years. For example, e-reader device ownership has fallen. Today, about one-in-five adults report owning an e-reader, while in early 2014 that share was a third. Ownership of MP3 players has not had a notable decline, but the percentage of adults who own one has hovered around the 40 percent mark since 2008. Computer ownership levels have stayed roughly where they were a decade ago.

Some of the changes in device ownership patterns are particularly evident for young adults. Among those ages 18-29, ownership of MP3 players and computers has declined by double digits in the past five years. In 2010, three-quarters of 18- to 29-year-olds owned an MP3 player. By 2015, only 51 percent had one.

There is a similar pattern with computer ownership. Today, 78 percent of adults under 30 own a laptop or desktop computer, compared with 88 percent who did so in 2010. Smartphone ownership, on the other hand, has surpassed both of these devices, with 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds owning one in 2015. In other words, as smartphones came to prominence several years ago, younger owners did not seem to feel as much of a need as their older peers to have other kinds of devices.

The Pew Research Center studies different types of digital devices, because their use often affects how people connect with each other, with information and with media. The devices also impact the way people spend their time. Each kind of device has its own attributes of how people use them and engage with the material they provide. Consequently, device usage has notable social, cultural, political and macroeconomic implications. For example, every major media industry – those built around video, audio and text – has been disrupted by these devices.

Cell phones (including smartphones) continue to top of the list. Ninety-two percent of American adults own a mobile phone of some kind. Although these mobile devices are ubiquitous today, the share of adults who own one has risen substantially since 2004, when Pew Research conducted its first poll on cell ownership. At that time, 65 percent of Americans owned a cell phone.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Tablets and Phones, Flickr)