A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked respondents whether they had used a variety of devices – laptops, cell phones, game consoles, andconsumer-spend-insights more – to go online using a wireless network. Altogether, 56% of Americans said they have at some point used wireless means for online access.

  • 39% of all Americans have used a laptop computer to go online wirelessly, making this the most prevalent means of wireless access.
  • 32% of all Americans have gotten online with a mobile device – meaning they have used a cell phone or other handheld device to check email, access the internet for information, or send instant messages.

Together, laptop and mobile wireless access account for the vast majority of wireless access, as 51% of Americans have gotten online using either of these two methods. Some people (19% of Americans) opt for both means of wireless access – portable laptops on fast WiFi networks or handheld access on slower networks from cell carriers. African Americans are the most active users of the mobile internet – and their use of it is also growing the fastest. This means the digital divide between African Americans and white Americans diminishes when mobile use is taken into account.

  • 48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.
  • 29% of African Americans use the internet on their handheld on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.
  • Compared with 2007, when 12% of African Americans used the internet on their mobile on the average day, use of the mobile internet is up by 141%.

The high level of activity among African Americans on mobile devices helps offset lower levels of access tools that have been traditional onramps to the internet, namely desktop computers, laptops, and home broadband connections. Other access devices – iPods, game consoles, or e-books – for now play a small role in people’s wireless online habits.

  • 45% of adults have iPods or MP3 players, but only 5% of adults have used such a device to go online.
  • 41% of adults have game consoles and 9% of adults have used it to go online.
  • 14% of adults say they have a personal digital assistant and 7% of adults have used a PDA to go online.
  • 2% of adults say they own an e-book reader – a Kindle or a Sony reader – and just 1% of all adults have used it to access the internet.

This comes to 17% of Americans who have used one these four devices for wireless internet access, but the pool of users on these devices adds just 5 percentage points to the pool of wireless users. In other words, absent users of these devices for wireless access, 51% of Americans would be wireless internet users, not 56%. Source: “Internet & American Life Project,” conducted by Pew Research Center, April 2009.  Website: www.pewinternet.org.