Trends on Tuesday: 40% of Smartphone Users Look up Government Information

Apr 7, 2015

The Pew Research Center released a deep research dive into “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015” that provided three big ideas and data points for government agencies to consider when planning their digital strategies.

More than 2/3 of Americans have smartphones; many of those are mobile first or mobile only Internet users.

A 2014 smartphone-dependent population chart shows that of the 64 percent of Americans with a smartphone, 7 percent of them rely heavily on a smartphone for online access.

The report detailed that 6 in 10 Americans own a smartphone (64%), and 2 in 10 Americans now access the Internet primarily through their mobile phone (25%).

In terms of “smartphone-dependent” groups, Pew cites that “10% of Americans own a smartphone but do not have broadband at home, and 15% own a smartphone but say that they have a limited number of options for going online other than their cell phone.” Those with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites are especially likely to be “smartphone-dependent.”

People are doing a lot more with those phones than just texting and talking.

As we’ve previously discussed on DigitalGov, Pew provided examples of how smartphones are used for much more than just calling, texting or Internet browsing and noted that users are turning to mobile devices for a wide range of life tasks:

  • 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.
  • 57% did online banking.
  • 44% looked up real estate listings or other information about a place to live.
  • 43% looked up information about a job.
  • 40% looked up government services or information.
  • 30% took a class or got educational content.
  • 18% submitted a job application.

(Bold emphasis added to point out government services or information is one of the top tasks listed.)

The report also said that 17% of American smartphone owners have used their phone to report a community problem in their neighborhood (such as a pothole or missing street sign) to the local authorities.

Smartphones are critical tools for spreading local news and community information.

A 2014 chart shows the percentage of smartphone owners by four age groups, and what they use it for; following breaking news, to share info about local events, and to learn about community events.

The report also discussed the types of content audiences engaged with on their mobile devices, and a high portion used the devices for sharing and learning about community and local news events, including sharing photos and videos. Rates were especially high among survey respondents under the age of 50.

What does this mean for government agencies?

This research shows that a significant and growing portion of our constituencies need to be able to access our digital content and properties by mobile devices because they have no other easily accessible options. If your agency primarily serves underprivileged, low-income or minority communities, these rates are even higher, and it is exponentially more crucial to your mission to prepare your digital content to be mobile-optimized as soon as possible, if not first, before the desktop experience.

From breaking news and safety information in a disaster, to reporting community issues, to researching health issues, to looking up government services—smartphones are a critically important tool for government agencies to serve and connect with the people they serve.