Mobile Web Nears the Mainstream

Smartphones and Mobile Internet

Chic new smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and HTC’s Android-powered G1 have brought the hype about the mobile Web to a fevered pitch, but a new study from the Pew Internet Project suggests that Americans remain deeply divided in their views on always-on connectivity.

Pew found that 39 percent of survey respondents have “positive and improving attitudes” about connecting to the Internet through their mobile devices, while the remaining 61 percent are either happy to rely on a traditional PC connection, or don’t use the Internet at all.

Still, the survey found a sharp uptick in the percentage of wireless Internet users who said it would be “very hard” to give up their mobile devices from a similar survey Pew conducted two years ago.

“For a sizable minority of Americans, mobile connectivity expands their digital horizons as they do more with their suite of wireline and wireless tools,” study author John Horrigan said in a statement. “Mobile services complement existing broadband assets, and these Americans find it increasingly hard to be without their connectivity traveling with them as they go.”

The new study comes as major carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T are making big investments in sophisticated 4G data networks, shelling out billions for the spectrum that will provide the backbone for their mobile Web offerings.

Web firms are looking increasingly to the mobile arena as the next major growth area. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said that he expects the company’s revenue from mobile to eclipse its traditional Web business in the coming years.

Pew’s report divided respondents into 10 categories of “typology,” ranging from “digital collaborators” (8 percent), who have fully embraced the online lifestyle, to the “off the network” set, the 14 percent who don’t use the Internet at home or work, let alone on a mobile device.

In between those poles Pew identified a host of wireless users who might use the Internet on their devices primarily work, others for social networking, and still others who are just warming up to their sophisticated new phones, what Pew termed “mobile newbies.”

Pew calls the 61 percent who rarely use their mobile devices for anything more than calling or texting the “stationary media majority.”

Within this set, Pew identified a counter-current of “digital drifters” — people who have been engaged with the Web for years, but are actually growing less inclined to access it on their mobile devices.

Nearly one quarter (24 percent) of respondents said they either have limited Internet access at home or work, but find the notion of the mobile Web intrusive, or remain off the grid entirely.

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