Pew survey shows 68 percent of US adults now own a smartphone

The percent of American adults who own a PC held steady over the last decade as tablets and smartphones made inroads.

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The percentage of US adults who own a smartphone or tablet has skyrocketed in recent years, while PC ownership has held more or less steady. That’s the takeaway of a new Pew Research Center survey that clearly illustrates the rapid rise of “post-PC” devices.

According to the survey, 68 percent of adults in the United States currently own a smartphone, up from 35 percent four years ago. Meanwhile, 45 percent own some form of tablet, up from three percent in 2010. 

Pew’s data shows that desktop and laptop ownership has remained more or less flat over the last decade. According to Pew, 73 percent of survey respondents currently own a desktop or laptop, compared to 71 percent in 2004. Traditional PC ownership trended slightly upward until the early part of this decade before tailing off somewhat the last two or three years. 

Why this matters: Pew’s data reinforces what we already know—that fewer people are buying new PCs, and that more people are turning to mobile devices like smartphones. IDC, the research arm of PCWorld’s parent company, predicted in August that PC sales would slip by 8.7 percent this year and decline an additional 1.1 percent in 2016 before bouncing back some in 2017.

To help stave off further declines, several PC industry giants developed a joint ad campaign to extoll the virtues of the PC. While only time will tell whether such marketing efforts—and this past summer’s release of Windows 10—will help get PC sales back on track, one thing’s for certain: The PC’s days at the center of the consumer tech universe are likely over for good.

Other devices losing popularity

Additionally, the survey shows the game console ownership rate remained around 40 percent since 2009, while the percentage of those who own a dedicated portable gaming device (like the Nintendo 3DS) dropped from 18 percent in 2009 to 14 percent today.

MP3 player ownership rose from 20 percent to 40 percent today, but that number has been trending downward since 2010. The market for dedicated e-readers has shown a similar trajectory: two percent of those surveyed owned ebook readers in 2009 and 19 percent own one today, but that figure has tailed off over the last couple of years.

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