Rising mobile Internet use could create new digital divide

17 percent of adult cell users use phones as primary Internet device.

A new Pew Research report is confirming the trend that more people than ever are using cell phones to access the Internet instead of desktop PCs and other devices and shows how the current digital divide is being bridged... and a new one could open.

The report's findings show that 55 percent of cell phone users use their phones to go online, and of that group 31 percent use their phone the most to go online.

"That works out to 17% of all adult cell owners who are 'cell-mostly internet users'--that is, who use their phone for most of their online browsing," the report stated.

The use of cell phones for online use seems to be set along income and racial lines, as well.

"Half (51%) of African-American cell internet users do most of their online browsing on their phone, double the proportion for whites (24%). Two in five Latino cell internet users (42%) also fall into the 'cell-mostly' category," the report read. "Additionally, those with an annual household income of less than $50,000 per year and those who have not graduated college are more likely than those with higher levels of income and education to use their phones for most of their online browsing."

If these results are indeed representative of the population, it would mean that the so-called digital divide, where those with poorer incomes are not be able to access the Internet or use local software because they can't afford a computing device, may be getting bridged through alternate means.

This news should affect everyone from web designers, who should really start thinking more about mobile Internet design for their sites, to PC manufacturers, who could cut back or drop cheaper PC products as they see potential customers relying on cell phones.

This could also be a good target market for low-cost tablets, which are cheaper than PCs and laptops and would offer mobile connectivity with a form factor that's easier to use than smaller cell phones.

The big unknown result from this trend will be how productivity will be affected. Internet use is ofen a big reason people will purchase a PC or laptop. If more people are using their cell phones for Internet connectivity, then there may be less call to use computers, which would see a corresponding decrease in content production from PCs, as well as a decline in skills for using computers.

Such a shift might a create a new digital divide: one not based on ownership of Internet-capable devices, but on who can create on the Internet and who will be relegated to consumption of content.

As for the desktop paradigm, this is yet another signpost that marks the way towards an overall decline in desktop use, one to which the FLOSS community should pay heed. The desktop may never die completely, but the mobile market is something which cannot be ignored.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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