According to the 2012 annual State of News Media report, more Americans than ever own and receive news from smartphones and tablet computers, the Pew Research Center reported.
A survey of 3,000 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 44% of people over 18 now own a smartphone, while 18% of adults own tablets—a 50% increase in tablet usage from the summer of 2011.
The survey found that, of the majority of Americans who own a desktop or laptop computer, more than half also own a smartphone. In addition, it found that almost a third of smartphone owners also own a tablet. Overall, 13% of the adults surveyed owned all three devices.
The survey also asked participants about their smartphone and tablet behaviors, discovering that about half of smartphone owners and more than half of tablet owners use their respective devices to get digital news.
In an analytical article by Amy Mitchell, Tom Rosenstiel and Leah Christian, the authors concluded that those who own multiple mobile devices are becoming “multiplatform digital news consumers,” using each device to get news instead of relying on one primary platform. However, the majority of consumers still prefer using desktop or laptop computers for news, the article said.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the survey for news organizations is the suggestion that brand names still seem to matter in the eyes of American consumers, especially for tablet owners. According to the study, a third of desktop and smartphone users go directly to news websites “very often” to get news, compared to 38% of tablet owners.
This claim affirms the notion that many consumers recognize the value of quality, long-form journalism. Just under a third of digital device owners reported using key word searches “very often” to find their news. According to a 2011 study of 25 news websites by the PEJ, home pages consistently rank the highest in terms of views, so users most likely type in the name of the news organizations they trust rather than individual article topics.
According to the Pew Research Center, “the suggestion that emerges is that behavior, rather than device, may play a large role in how people get their news. And that may offer some hope for established news organizations.”
Surprisingly, though, social media curation via Facebook and Twitter did not play as much of a role in consumers’ procurement of digital news as did brands and searches, with 7% of smartphone owners and 8% of tablet owners receiving news from Facebook “very often,” and a scant 3% of each receiving news from Twitter. However, the article clarified that the percentages of digital device owners who use social networking “sometimes” or “ever” to get news were actually much higher, especially for Facebook.
In addition, of the 6% of participants who owned all three devices, who the PEJ deemed “mobile news omnivores,” the study found that users were much more likely to rely on social networking sites for news.
“This peer-to-peer sharing or recommending of news does appear to be an emerging trend, however, and may become a part — if not soon a primary part — of news consumption,” the article stated. “Thus for now, social recommendations are also becoming an added rather than an alternative way that people get news and may, in effect, be another form of expanding civic behavior rather than merely changing it.”
The article also discussed the relevance of outside research by Localytics, a firm which tracks smartphone and tablet behaviors. Localytics found that mobile news users tend to spend more time reading articles on news apps, and return to news apps more often, than when getting news from desktops or laptops.
This data suggests that “mobile is adding to and expanding rather than replacing news behavior,” the article said.
Trends of mobile news usage appear worldwide as well. According to a 2011 study by comScore, the UK had the highest percentage of news website traffic from "non-computer" digital devices, with mobile phones comprising 7.4% of UK news website traffic, paidContent reported. Japan had the second highest mobile percentage with 5.2%, followed by the US, Australia, and India. Percentages of tablet traffic were more regular across country lines, with the UK, Canada, and Australia tied with 1.9%. The US trailed closely with 1.8%.
As the Pew Center Research shows, mobile devices have clearly become much more integrated into the behaviors of news consumers. As news organizations begin to optimize their digital programs and social networking presence, perhaps the demographics of mobile device users, as well as the readership of long-form digital journalism, will begin to widen.