This is an important question for us.
We’re dedicated to scaling our curriculum by leveraging technology, and one of our primary concerns is the question of access to that technology. We leapt into the field of educational science apps with great enthusiasm–and we’ve learned a lot about what makes a good mobile app (and the magic of designer-developer chemistry) over the past two years. However, the concern over access remains present–are the apps we’re developing reaching the people we want to reach?

In that post from two years ago, as we looked forward we acknowledged the app gap:

We work primarily with low income communities who need a lot of support learning how to access the internet, using keyboards, smart phones etc. We plan on making these apps a regular part of our in-person programs and documenting the learning/training process as well as the impact to further inform the field.

We have integrated these apps into our in-person programs (particularly the Curiosity Machine, using tablets to take pictures, and Ethers, our series of physics games for mobile devices), but when it comes to scaling our programs through technology, those concerns over access still remained. So when we found the following data (from reports from the Pew Institute from 2012-2014), we were very very surprised to learn that “Both African-Americans and Latinos have overall adoption rates that are comparable to the national average for all Americans. Smartphone penetration is 49% in each case, just higher than the national average of 46%” (2012)

We encourage you to take a look at the reports for yourself (links below), but here are some highlights we found particularly surprising:

Smartphone Ownership Demographics (Feb 2012):

  • White, non-Hispanic: 45%
  • Black, non-Hispanic: 49%
  • Hispanic (English- and Spanish-Speaking): 49%

Annual Family Income: 

  • Less than $30,000: 34% own a smartphone
  • $30,000-$49,999: 46% own a smartphone
  • $50,000-$74,999: 49% own a smartphone
  • $75,000+: 68% own a smartphone

“When it comes to owning a smartphone, going online from a mobile device and using social networking sites, Latinos are just as connected with other Americans.”

  • 86% of Latinos own a cellphone, compared to 84% of whites and 90% of blacks (2013)
  • Among adults, Latinos are just as likely as whites or blacks to own a smartphone—49% versus 46% and 50% respectively. (2013)

Latinos with Annual Family Income (AFI) of $50,000 or more are the most likely to own a smartphone:

  • AFI of $50,000+ : 76% own a smartphone
  • AFI of $30,000-$49,999: 59% own a smartphone
  • AFI under $30,000: 40% own a smartphone

76% of Hispanic internet users say they access the internet on a mobile device, versus 60% of whites.

Meanwhile, Latino and Black internet users are equally likely to access the internet from a mobile device—76% and 73% respectively

  • 92% of African Americans own a cell phone, and 56% own a smartphone. (2014)
  • Blacks and Whites are equally likely to own a cell phone of some kind, and also have identical rates of smartphone ownership. (2014)
  • AFI of <$30,000: white: 34% own a smartphone; black: 48% own a smartphone
  • Have children: white: 70% own a smartphone; black: 68% own a smartphone
  • “Some 10% of African American adults indicate that they do not have a traditional broadband connection in their home, but that they do own a smartphone.” (2014)
  • 46% of African Americans have both a broadband connection and a smartphone
  • 16% have home broadband connection, but not a smartphone
  • 10% have a smartphone, but not broadband at home

Ultimately, smartphones narrow—but do not eliminate entirely—the “high speed access gap” between whites and blacks.

Placing this data alongside the recent report citing a 70% growth in data traffic in 2013,  and the projections for mobile internet access, a different picture of smartphone access and mobile internet is emerging