Friday New Tools Feature: Mobile Internet Narrows the Digital Divide Domestically

My colleague Sam duPont has been doing excellent work writing about how mobile technology is helping to provide information services and access in deveoping countries. As a recent Pew Internet and American Life survey helps to illustrate, the same is true within our own country, where socio-economic conditions have traditionally prevented many from accessing the internet, and thus put the less fortunate at an even more profound disadvantage in today's data-centric world.

Here are some of the most important findings of the study:

  • 48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.
  • 29% of African Americans use the internet on their handheld on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.
  • Compared with 2007, when 12% of African Americans used the internet on their mobile on the average day, use of the mobile internet is up by 141%.

The high level of activity among African Americans on mobile devices helps offset lower levels of access tools that have been traditional onramps to the internet, namely desktop computers, laptops, and home broadband connections.

The study found that, "by a 59% to 45% margin, white Americans are more likely to go online using a computer on a typical day than African Americans." However, "when mobile devices are included in the mix, the gap is cut in half; 61% of whites go online on the average day when mobile access is included while 54% of African Americans do."

Of course, even with high-end mobile devices like the iPhone, there are still very significant differences in functionality between your typical internet-enabled mobile device and a notebook or desktop. And, especially if data is being accessed over carrier networks instead of WiFi, there is a pretty big difference speed. There were several columns this week, including two in the New York Times (1 | 2), about how iPhone users (particularly those in dense cities, where bandwidth issues are the most glaring) are angry about how slow their download speeds are. Indeed, in explaining why they're so far behind schedule in allowing iPhone users to use MMS, AT&T admitted that their network was struggling to keep up with the demand for data:

We're riding the leading edge of smartphone growth that's resulted in an explosion of traffic over the AT&T network. Wireless use on our network has grown an average of 350 percent year-over-year for the past two years, and is projected to continue at a rapid pace in 2009 and beyond. The volume of smartphone data traffic the AT&T network is handling is unmatched in the wireless industry.

It is true that at this point mobile internet alone cannot totally bridge the digital divide (it's still pretty hard to apply for many jobs, or do word processing or website work, without a real computer). However, with the implementation of 4G networks over the next few years, and the exponential increase in smartphone sophistication we're likely to see - in particular, the app ecosystem is still in its infancy, and is likely to explode in utility much as the internet did - this report should still be read as an essentially positive sign.

Thursday New Tools Feature: Phoning It In

As I mentioned in a New Tools update this Monday, President-elect Barack Obama's decision to include a participatory text-messaging component to the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball shows that, better than most politicians today, he understands the evolving relationship between Americans and their mobile devices.

However, text messaging is only a part of the developing mobile landscape. A few new studies this week emphasize the growing importance of mobile devices in Americans' media consumption habits. One from the Cisco Visual Networking Index finds that a higher percentage of consumers in the United States watch video on their mobile phones than in any other country -- a whopping 23%.

Another report, this one from Ad Mob, documents a dramatic increase in the use of mobile phones to access WiFi networks.

Eight percent of total ad requests within Ad Mob's U.S. network came from WiFi networks, up from three percent in August.

Typically, users can access WiFi in the home, office or hotspots where personal computers are presumably present and available. Yet the results suggest that users are opting for their cell phones and are potentially more engaged with their handset than the PC.

The emergence of WiFi-capable phones, combined with ever-increasing WiFi penetration, means that more and more mobile users are able to access high-quality media on their devices. It also means that mobile phones are increasingly becoming the go-to devices for mobile internet access; for example, when I went abroad over the holidays, I brought my iPhone with me but left the laptop at home, a phenomenon which is becoming increasingly common.   

Finally, just for fun (and to see just how far mobile technology has come in a few short years), check out LG's new Watch Phone, unveiled at CES 2009 this week:

A touch-screen phone with 3G and Bluetooth capables, the watch also takes pictures and records video. I'm not sure I would rock one at this point, but only because I don't have enough yellow outerwear to go with it.

For more on why mobile phones and web video matter in politics today, and how to use mobile technology and video to message more effectively, check out our New Politics Institute papers, Go Mobile Now and Reimagine Video.

Neilson Mobile: Mobile Use by Political Party

Neilson mobile offers new statistics on mobile media use in the US and specifically breaks down the users by Party affiliation. First it begins with ovarall national numbers on mobile media use in general:

  • 43 million US mobile subscribers use mobile Internet
  • 33 million recieve text alerts
  • 32 million use instant messaging
  • 4 million subscribe to and view mobile video 

Neilson then goes on to list out that in general Democrats are more active mobile media users than Republicans. This makes sense given that the demographics for mobile media users tend to skew younger, and more Hispanic and African American. But this is the first time I'd seen hard numbers broken down by party affiliation:

  • Overall, 62% of Democrats are data users who use one or more data service on their mobile phone (compared to 55% of Republicans)
  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans to use text messaging (53% compared to 46%)
  • Democrats are more likely to use picture messaging and MMS (27% compared to 21%)
  • Democrats are more likely to use mobile Internet, as well (17% compared to 13%)

As political progressives seek to continue to evolve the use of this new media as tools for influencing both elections and public policy, it is good to get new numbers that confirm that these are tools that Democrats do resonate with. 

New Official Obama Application for iPhone/Ipod Touch Launched Today

I've been a long time fan of the Obama campaigns use of mobile media to date, and today they took their mobile strategy a step further.

They lanched a native iPhone/iPod Touch application that connects you directly into the campaign over your device in a number of innovative ways.

You can download it today for free from the official iPhone Application store, but here are the features as described on the campaign page:

  • Call Friends: A great volunteering tool
    that lets you make a difference any time you want by talking to people
    you already know. Your contacts are prioritized by key battleground
    states, and you can make calls and organize results all in one place.
  • Call Stats: See nationwide Obama '08 Call Friends totals and find out how your call totals compare to leading callers.
  • Get Involved: Do more. Find and contact your local Obama for America HQ.
  • Receive Updates: Receive the latest news and announcements via text messages or email.
  • News: Browse complete coverage of national and local campaign news.
  • Local Events: Find local events, share by email and get maps and directions.
  • Media: Browse videos and photos from the campaign
  • Issues: Get clear facts about Barack Obama and Joe Biden's plan for essential issues facing Americans.

My early review of the application very positive. Especially impressive is that when you choose Local Events the App checks your GPS location (for iPhone users) to find the closest campaign office near you at that time. Nice. 

Also for iPhone users: Call friends is a great feature that remembers that this is a PHONE application not simply a small Desktop app. As the author of the app describes this feature:  "It organizes and prioritizes your contacts by key battleground states... Caller stats are then aggregrated anonymously to a leaderboard within the application displaying key stats such as the number of callers and total calls made."

The Obama campaign continues to define and evolve what political mobile media outreach is. All iPhone and iPod Touch users interested in what that can mean should definitely check out this new application.


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