Smartphone Usage: Guessing vs. Knowing

Pew research released their Smartphone Adoption and Usage survey today, its first survey of smartphone usage. Some unshocking takeaways: * Smartphone penetration is greater among the affluent and under 45 years old. * One-third of cell owners are smartphone owners. * 68% of smartphone owners access the Internet and/or email on a daily basis.

But some have gone further and are saying "25 percent prefer smartphones over PCs for internet access."

Whoa, what? One of four of us prefer a smartphone for our Internet needs? That's a significant finding. But there's only one problem with it: We don't know that.

There's no way one can make the claim that they prefer smartphone access, and reporting it that way is speculative at best. Here's the survey's question.

>Overall, when you use the Internet, do you do that mostly using your cell phone or mostly using some other device like a desktop, laptop or tablet computer?

Twenty-five percent said they used their phone. What the survey didn't go into was the conditions surrounding that access. First, of that 25 percent, 16 percent didn't even have an alternative option. This suggests that part of the 25 was due to necessity. Second, what qualifies as "using the Internet"? Is it checking my Twitter feed and checking in on Foursquare? Or is it doing things like playing fantasy football or looking for a new car? Third, what about other contextual factors? Are they traveling frequently? Maybe they have an hour train commute every day? What kind of content are they engaging with? Is their home internet access opressively slow? (My parents' internet connection clocks at a dawdling 0.17 Mbps. So on visits I turn to my iPhone, which is faster by multiples. But that doesn't mean I prefer it if all things were equal. There's so much web content I'd simply rather consume on a laptop.) There's plenty of things people might "normally" do for a wide range of reasons, but not necessarily because they prefer to.

We know mobile usage has exploded, and there's plenty of ink about that. But we shouldn't report things that we don't really know to be true.