Half of U.S. adults own a smartphone or tablet, Pew survey says

And nearly two-thirds of those owners get news on their mobile device

It's no secret that more people are buying smartphones and tablets, but there's an explosion in ownership going on in the U.S.

Half of U.S. adults now have a mobile connection to the Web through a smartphone or tablet, up sizably from a year ago, according to a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The survey of of 9,513 U.S. adults, conducted online from June to August 2012, said 22% of U.S. adults own a tablet, twice the number from a year earlier, while 44% of U.S. adults have smartphones, up from 35% in May 2011.

Pew found that lower-priced, Android-based tablets introduced in late 2011 "brought in a new crop of tablet owners." In the latest survey, 52% of tablet owners said they own an iPad, down from 81% a year ago. Also, 48% said they own an Android device, and about half of those devices (21%) were Kindle Fires. Pew found iPad owners use their tablets more often for news, while Android users are more likely to use their tablets on social networks and then follow news that comes from friends and family.

Nearly two-thirds of those smartphone and tablet owners use them to read or view news at least weekly, which nearly ties other popular activities such as email and playing games on the devices, Pew said.

The survey results have major implications for how news will be consumed and paid for, Pew said. Mobile users don't just check headlines, with 73% of tablet users saying they read in-depth articles at least sometimes, while 61% of smartphone users at least sometimes read longer stories.

The survey also showed there is "continued resistance to paying for content on mobile devices," and more mobile news users have print-only subscriptions than have digital subscriptions.

Pew's survey shows that rather than replacing old technology, "the introduction of new devices and formats is creating a new kind of multi-platform news consumer." For example, 54% of tablet news users also get news on a smartphone, while 77% of tablet news users get news on a desktop or laptop and 50% get news in print. A full 25% get their news on all four platforms.

The survey also indicated that mobile devices are increasing the amount of news people receive. Almost a third of tablet users said they get news from new sources they didn't see in other platforms.

The use of news apps on mobile devices "remains limited," the survey found, and "most people still use a browser for news on their tablet."

Over the past year, more people started using browsers, rather than apps, to receive news. In the latest survey, 60% of tablet users said they mainly use the browser to find news, while 23% get the news mostly through apps and 16% use both equally. In 2011, the comparable numbers were 40% through a browser, 21% through apps, while 31% used both.

Pew also asked respondents to compare mobile news usage with news habits on laptops and desktops and found that 41% of mobile users prefer the conventional laptop or desktop for receiving news. "Even as the population of tablet owners broadens, the idea that we have entered a post-PC era is overstated -- at least when it comes to news," Pew said. "The desktop computer remains an enduring part of people's news consumption -- perhaps because during weekdays it is a work tool."

The poll was conducted in collaboration with The Economist Group.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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