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Americans use phones more for games, Internet

Americans' use of non-voice programs on cell phones has "grown dramatically" over the last year, with even more of us using our phones as cameras and video recorders, as well as for e-mail, Internet and playing games, according to a report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

"Cell phones have become for many owners an all-purpose chat-text-gaming-photo-sharing media hub that is an essential utility for work and a really fancy toy for fun," said Aaron Smith, Pew research specialist and author of the report, "Mobile Access 2010."

Compared to a year ago, Pew said, cell phone owners are now more likely to use their mobile phones to:

  • Take pictures: 76 percent now do this, up from 66 percent in April 2009
  • Send or receive text messages: 72 percent vs. 65 percent
  • Access the Internet: 38 percent vs. 25 percent
  • Play games: 34 percent vs. 27 percent
  • Send or receive e-mail: 34 percent vs. 25 percent
  • Record a video: 34 percent vs. 19 percent
  • Play music: 33 percent vs. 21 percent
  • Send or receive instant messages: 30 percent vs. 20 percent

More than half — 55 percent — of cell phone Internet users go online from their mobile phone on a daily basis.

Mobile giving — donating to charities via cell phone — reached critical mass earlier this year after Haiti's devastating earthquake in January, when tens of millions of dollars were donated to non-profit groups this way.

Pew said 11 percent of those surveyed said they made such a donation this year using their cell phones.

More than cell phones and laptops
Nearly 60 percent of Americans go online wirelessly using a laptop or cell phone, Pew said. Of that number, 47 percent use both a cell phone and laptop to get online; 33 percent use a laptop only, and 20 percent a cell phone only.

There are a growing number of tertiary devices that can connect to the Net, and a small number of Americans are also using these right now to do so. Nine percent of adults go online using an MP3 player, game console, e-book reader or tablet computer, such as Apple's iPad, Pew said.

Of the 42 percent of Americans that own a game console like the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, 29 percent use those consoles for Internet access, Pew said. Of the 46 percent of Americans who have an MP3 player, 16 percent use them to get online.

E-book readers and tablets, a fledging tech category, are also being used for Net access. Pew says 4 percent of Americans now own an e-book reader like Amazon's Kindle, and 46 percent say they use the devices to access the Internet. Three percent of those surveyed said they have a tablet computer, like Apple's iPad, which they use for the Internet.

Pew noted that "at the moment, e-book readers are largely a luxury item owned primarily by the well-off and well-educated, as one in 10 college graduates ... and 8 percent of those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more per year own an electronic book reader."

Younger users and mobile data
Not surprisingly, young adults — those ages 18 to 29, Pew said — "have the highest levels of mobile data application use among all age groups," although those ages 30 to 49 are also coming up strong.

Among 18- to 29-year old cell phone owners, Pew said:

  • 95 percent send or receive text messages
  • 93 percent use their phone to take pictures
  • 81 percent send photos or videos to others
  • 65 percent access the Internet on their mobile device
  • 64 percent play music on their phones
  • 60 percent use their phones to play games or record a video
  • 48 percent have accessed a social networking site on their phone
  • 40 percent have watched a video on their phone
  • 33 percent have posted a photo or video online from their phone
  • 21 percent have used a "status update service" such as Twitter from their phone
  • 20 percent have purchased something using their mobile phone
  • 19 percent have made a charitable donation by text message

Pew surveyed 2,252 adults between April 29 and May 30. The margin of error is 2 percentage points for the total sample.