Is “Mobile Access to the Internet” Synonymous With “Access to the Internet”

A few weeks back, co-worker Rob forwarded on some interesting numbers from a Pew Research Institute study on smartphone ownership:

45% of American adults own smartphones.

The report notes that smartphones are particularly popular with young adults and those living in relatively higher income households.   Further, the report states:

90% of those users say that they use their phone to go online.

Also from PEW, back in June, were numbers describing how people who have cellphones (not only smartphones) are using them. While I certainly find that 45% figure interesting, there is a question I find even more compelling: who is using their phone as the main way that they access the Internet?  This question intrigues me because the answers speak not just to raw numbers, but to some larger questions of race, privilege, and access.

While about 24% of white cellphone users mostly access the internet using their phones, 51% of black, and 42% of Hispanic users do. Think about that for a minute.  Over half of black Americans are accessing your website on a mobile device, and may never even see your site on a computer.  We often talk to clients about desktop and mobile users as if they were the same people, just at different times of the day. What these PEW numbers say is that, in some cases, there may be less overlap between those two groups than we thought.

There is also an inverse to the smarthpone numbers when you look at household income of people who report that they use mostly use their phones to access the internet:

$75,000+ 21%
$50,000-$74,999 34%
$30,000-$49,000 36%
Less than $30,000 43%

I wonder if the young rich folks with iPhones are mostly just playing Angry Birds?

Now obviously, these numbers don’t tell you anything about who is visiting your website specifically. You can leverage analytics to get a lot of information about who your visitors are, and you can survey your visitors directly to try and get a handle on what the demographics are beyond what your analytics can tell you. But if you are creating a campaign that is trying to reach young, black Americans who use cellphones you are definitely going to want to tailor how your site works to be sure that it can be used with the widest variety of devices possible. Whether that ends up being a Responsive or Adaptive approach, a full on Mobile First approach, or a native app, is another question entirely.  But what these numbers say about who is using what to get to where means that when you don’t focus on your mobile users, you’re closing the door on significant numbers of people.

As Karen McGrane put it in her presentation at An Event Apart (and I am paraphrasing here):

If you call yourself an equal opportunity employer, and the career info on your website is not available on mobile, then you are not an equal opportunity employer.


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