Many Americans cannot easily access the Internet without their smartphone

EPA/CESARE ABBATE
EPA/CESARE ABBATE

Even 10 years ago, it would have seemed like science fiction. The whole of the Internet accessible from the palm of your hand — and not only that, but also a cellphone, alarm clock, watch, personal organizer, and a myriad other applications. Nobody can deny the widespread social and economic impact of the rapid adoption of smartphones, but how many people actually own one? And how much do those owners rely on their gadgets?

Well, the Pew Research Center has answers. According to a new study, 64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone, which is up from 35 percent from 2011. The majority of these people have other ways of accessing the Internet — their smartphone is just a secondary device.

However, a sizable minority rely on their phone to a large degree. Ten percent of smartphone owners report not having access to broadband service in their own home, and 15 percent report that they have a limited number of ways of getting online besides their smartphone. About 7 percent say that both of these conditions apply to them.

In addition, certain population groups tend to be more phone-dependent than others. Younger people and people with low household incomes and less education are heavily dependent on smartphones at a rate of about 15 percent and 13 percent respectively. A quarter of young people report that they have limited options for accessing the Internet besides their phone. Non-whites also fall into this camp, with 12 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Latinos reporting that they’re smartphone-dependent.

Interestingly, the Pew Research Center found that the groups who depend most heavily on smartphone access are also often the same subset of users for whom smartphone ownership is most financially difficult. Fully 48 percent of smartphone-dependent people report having to cancel or suspend their service for a period of time due to financial constraints, compared with 21 percent of other smartphone users. Over half of these users also report occasionally reaching the maximum amount of their data plan, as opposed to 35 percent of regular users.

This study was conducted by the Pew Research Center in November 2014 through a survey of 2,188 smartphone owners in the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.