Smartphones sure are useful little devices. It’s no wonder people love them for chatting, surfing the web, shopping, playing games, and more. Smartphones also boast more flexibility than computers and are the primary (or only) way for many people to get online.
Of course, they have downsides. For instance, plenty of people keep their smartphones attached to their bodies. They do this even at the dinner table and in bed to the detriment of other relationships.
This guide explores many types of smartphone usage. It outlines stats on our favorite apps and takes a look at chronic overuse. It also discusses parents, their children, and smartphones. We also have a section explaining who exactly owns smartphones.
Table of Contents
What We Like (and Don’t Like) to Do on Our Smartphones
Smartphones offer a bevy of apps for dating, messaging, the news, photo editing, social media, you name it. Some of us also enjoy voice assistants for calling, texting, checking the weather, and other tasks. At the same time, many folks aren’t comfortable using facial recognition.
Overall, we adore our phones and spend more time with them than with our partners. The phenomenon of ignoring people in favor of our phones has had a name since 2012: phubbing. Another sign of smartphone overuse is that we often drive while using our phones.
Before we delve into all that, though, let’s look at our favorite apps and games.
YouTube is the most popular smartphone app across iOS and Android
The top 15 smartphone apps in April 2021, according to Comscore, were:
- YouTube – 71% user reach
- Facebook – 62% user reach
- Google Maps – 54% user reach
- Gmail – 54% user reach
- Google Search – 53% user reach
- Facebook Messenger – 48% user reach
- Amazon Mobile – 47% user reach
- Weather Channel – Native Apple – 45% user reach
- Google Play – 40% user reach
- Instagram – 40% user reach
- Find My – 35% user reach
- Apple News – 34% user reach
- Google Drive – 31% user reach
- Google Photos – 30% user reach
- Spotify – 30% user reach
Top 11 free apps on June 3, 2021
Top 11 paid apps on June 3, 2021
Top 11 highest-grossing apps on June 3, 2021
Top 11 free social/social networking apps on June 3, 2021
** Android and iOS classify their apps differently. For instance, the App Store (Apple/iOS) has a social networking category but no social category. Android/Google Play has a social category but no social networking category. A second example: Dating apps are included under social networking on Apple but have their own category on Android.
|Android phones: Social||iPhones: Social networking|
(Notice no TikTok despite it being classified as “social” under Android and being the #3 overall download on Apple phones on this date. TikTok goes under “entertainment” on Apple phones.)
Top 11 free game apps apps on June 3, 2021
|Android phones||Apple phones|
Then there’s audio. In 2020, we increasingly turned to smartphones and other mobile devices instead of radio receivers.
- Among folks 13 and older in the U.S., 30% listened to audio on mobile devices, a boost of 67% since 2014. In 2014, radio receivers accounted for 49% of audio consumption compared with the current 35%.
- Among the younger set (13 to 34 years old), mobile already passed radio. 46% listen on a mobile device while 20% listen on a radio.
- Special note: The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused some of these changes. Americans love to listen to the radio in their car but drove less in 2020. Time will tell if these newer audio patterns stick.
Gen Z loves smartphone photography
In a Gen Z poll, 80 percent of respondents said their phone is their primary camera, although 60 percent claim to own or use a digital camera. Teens’ interest in photography may have roots in the fact that they spend hours daily on social media sites. Video and photography are ubiquitous on these sites.
33% of respondents in a CivicScience survey said they use voice assistants on their smartphone
Another way to look at this stat: About 69% of people in the United States in 2021 don’t use voice assistants on their smartphones despite assistants coming with virtually all phones. The numbers are comparable with 2018, when 66% didn’t use voice assistants. Those who do use an assistant loop it in for these tasks:
- Call or text: 27%
- Search online: 19%
- Set an alarm or timer: 15%
- Check weather: 12%
- Add to a list: 8%
- Set calendar events: 6%
Younger people more likely to use voice assistants
- 18-24 age group: 42% use voice assistants
- 25-34 age group: 37% use voice assistants
- 35-54 age group: 37% use voice assistants
- 55+ age group: 23% use voice assistants
Americans get news more often from mobile devices versus computers
- 57% of Americans get their news from mobile devices
- 30% get it from a desktop or laptop
19% of Americans don’t answer when unknown numbers call
About eight in ten Americans (19 percent) ignore cellphone calls when they don’t recognize the number calling, according to Pew Research Center.
- Men are more likely than women to answer (23% vs. 16%).
24% of lower-income adults answer. 18% of middle-income adults do, while just 14% of upper-income adults do.
- Hispanics (25%) are more likely to answer compared with blacks (22%), Asians (20%), and whites (17%).
25% of respondents age 18 to 29 answer. The next-highest percentage is among seniors 65 and older (20% answer). Among adults 30 to 49, 18% answer. It’s 16% for adults 50 to 64 years old.
What if there could be a voicemail?
- 67% check to see if the caller left a voicemail
- 14% ignore the voicemail if there is one
Apps using facial recognition make folks uneasy even as we embrace many
- In February 2020, 76% of smartphone users expressed discomfort with the idea of apps having images of their faces. In April 2021, the percentage had grown to 81%. (In other words, 24% were comfortable in 2020 and 19% in 2021).
- Despite our unease, we continue to use apps such as Facebook that store our images. 56% of folks who aren’t comfortable with facial recognition tech are active Facebook users.
People are a bit more comfortable with facial recognition technology when it is on smartphones/mobile devices themselves (vs. apps)
- 34% are comfortable with mobile device facial recognition while 66% are not.
Many people OK being tracked if it means free apps and access
- In a survey of iPhone and iPad users, 86% expressed at least some concern with being tracked. However, they were fine with the privacy tradeoff if it meant freebies.
- Namely, 74% would settle for tracking instead of having to pay for content that’s now free.
Most folks don’t use ad blockers on their smartphones
- 18-24 age group: 18% use ad blockers
- 25-34 age group: 34% use ad blockers
- 35-54 age group: 35% use ad blockers
- 55+ age group: 25% use ad blockers
In case you’re wondering, ad blockers are more popular on computers.
- 18-24 age group: 60% use ad blockers
- 25-34 age group: 47% use ad blockers
- 35-54 age group: 51% use ad blockers
- 55+ age group: 44% use ad blockers
47% of survey respondents reported no change in their phone time during COVID-19 in May 2020
- In a Twigby survey, 47% of respondents said they’re using their phone the same amount of time
- About 39% reported using their phone more
- About 13% reported using their phone less
Smartphone video calls went up during COVID-19
- 32% of survey respondents said their video calling time increased
- 37% said they texted more and listened to music more, too
- 36% said their social media use increased
30% cleaned their phone daily during COVID-19
- 34% cleaned weekly
- 11% cleaned monthly
- 25% never cleaned
Chronic Overuse or Addiction
Phones get more of our time than our sweethearts do
- 78% of females spend more time with their phones than their partners
- 17% have interrupted sex or intimacy to check their phones
- 35% have busted their partner snooping on the phone
- 71% say their partner knows the passcode to their phone
- 22% admit phone use has caused arguments with their partner
- 46% use their phone when eating dinner with their partner
- 64% of males spend more time with their phones than their partners
- 7% have interrupted sex or intimacy to check their phones
- 43% have busted their partner snooping on the phone
- 55% say their partner knows the passcode to their phone
- 28% admit phone use has caused arguments with their partner
- 38% use their phone when eating dinner with their partner
Effect on partner’s happiness
- 34% of respondents strongly agree using their phone less would make their partner happier
- 22% of respondents agree
- 18% neither agree nor disagree
- 15% disagree
- 11% strongly disagree
Effect on relationship
- 12% of respondents strongly agree smartphones have a negative effect on their relationship
- 24% of respondents agree
- 34% neither agree nor disagree
- 22% disagree
- 8% strongly disagree
34% of educators K-16 around the world say they get distracted by students using smartphones and tablets during class
- 80% say their students multitask on their phones during lessons (the students try to pay attention to the lesson while being on their devices)
- 61% say multitasking negatively affects students’ learning
Teachers’ ideas to address the issue include these:
- 25% say to give students breaks to check their devices
- 24% say students need to turn their devices off
- 3% say no action is necessary
- 56% say their school or campus has a smartphone use policy of some sort and that it’s followed
In a study of 118 upper-level college students, students who had their cellphones and laptops open during class scored lower on subsequent exams—by 5%, which is about half a letter grade.
- That negative effect showed up in the longer term. In the shorter term, there was no difference in performance on in-class quiz questions. Put another way, having devices open didn’t seem to affect students’ comprehension but it cut into their retention.
- A decrease of half a grade, or 5%, sometimes can be the difference between passing or failing a class.
- Students who use smartphones and laptops in class distract other students who don’t.
In a different study, 30% of college students claimed they could use their devices without it negatively affecting their learning. However…
- 11+% said they didn’t think they could stop themselves from using their smartphones and other devices in class
- Students spent as much as 20% of their classroom time on their devices, texting, emailing, surfing online, playing games, dropping in on social media, and more
57% of vehicle crashes in 2020 involved phone use
A Zendrive study found that 57 percent of crashes involved recent phone use with 17 percent of crashes having phone use five seconds before impact. Other findings:
- The duration of phone use decreased but the frequency increased
- Jacksonville, Chicago, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas have the highest percentage of drivers on their phones
- The lowest phone use among drivers in cities goes to Boston, San Jose, Detroit, El Paso, and Seattle
48 states and D.C. ban texting while driving for all drivers. Montana (no ban whatsoever) and Missouri (partial ban) are the outliers.
36 states and D.C. have cellphone bans focused on younger drivers.
24 states and D.C. have handheld cellphone bans for drivers. New York was the first state to institute such a ban.
3.2% of drivers stopped at intersections in an observational survey were on handheld phones. Government estimates indicate that 9.7% of drivers are on a cellphone (whether handheld or hands-free).
54%of teens say they spend too much time on their cellphones.
- 35% say they spend about the right amount of time.
- 8% say they spend too little time.
Smartphones keep us online constantly, for better or worse
- About 25% of adults in the United States say they are online almost constantly.
- Another 43% goes online multiple times a day.
- Among teens, almost half say they’re online constantly, a figure that roughly doubled in four years. (About 95% of teens say they have access to a smartphone.)
The line between intense love and addiction can be fine
- Smartphone users in the United States check their phones 47 times a day.
- 85% of smartphone users are on their device when physically with friends and family.
- 47% of folks have attempted to curtail their phone use.
- 30% succeeded. The top five steps to reduce phone use were:
- Keep phone in bag or pocket when around people
- Switch audio notifications off
- Keep phone in bag or pocket even when alone
- Delete apps
- Switch phone off at night
Whose responsibility is it to address smartphone addiction?
- 74% say it is consumers’ job to address
- 9% say it is tech companies’ job to address
- 3% say it is government regulators’ job to address
- 14% have no opinion or don’t know
Who Owns Smartphones?
85% of Americans own a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011 (but some folks have cellphones that aren’t smartphones!)
Cellphone and smartphone ownership by age
- 97% of Americans own a cellphone; 85% a smartphone
- 100% of adults ages 18-29 own a cellphone; 96% a smartphone
- 100% of adults ages 30-49 own a cellphone; 95% a smartphone
- 97% of adults ages 50-64 own a cellphone; 83% a smartphone
- 92% of adults 65+ own a cellphone; 61% a smartphone
Highest percentages of folks who have a cellphone that isn’t a smartphone
- 29% of seniors 65+
- 19% of adults with a high school degree or less
- 19% earning less than $30,000
- 14% of Hispanics
- 14% of rural residents
- 14% of those earning $30,000 to $49,000
15% of Americans depend on their smartphones for internet at home (they don’t have broadband service at home)
This reliance is more common among the young, lower-income, and those with a high school education or less.
In 2020, the U.S. had 294.15 million smartphone users, according to one estimate
In 2025, the number is forecast to grow to 311.53 million.
In 2018, people in the U.S. spent 2 hours 25 minutes a day on their smartphones, on average. In 2020, it was 3 hours 5 minutes.
- Daily usage should grow to 3 hours 12 minutes a day in 2021 and 3 hours 17 minutes in 2022.
- COVID-19 accelerated most smartphone usage trends. An increase in voice calling is one that should be only temporary. Social networking (11 extra minutes a day), mobile video (10 extra minutes a day), and messaging (4 extra minutes a day) got pandemic boosts that should remain above baselines.
Parents, Their Children, and Smartphones
Teens increasingly want their parents to get off the phone.
- In 2016, 28% of teens said their parents spent too much time on mobile devices.
- In 2019, that percentage had grown to 39%.
- In 2016, 15% of parents said their teens’ mobile device use hurt their relationships.
- In 2019, 28% of parents said the same.thing
- 56% of teens who have a parent feeling addicted to smartphones/devices also feel addicted
All that said, 72 percent of teens and 55 percent of parents claimed mobile divides didn’t affect their relationship with each other.
29% of teens and 12% of parents sleep with a smartphone or mobile device in their bed.
- 36% of teens check their mobile device at least once during the night.
- 26% of parents do so.
68% of parents feel at least somewhat distracted by smartphones when they’re with their kids
- 17% of parents often feel distracted
- 52% sometimes feel distracted
- Parents 50 and older are less likely to be distracted
- 50 and older: 9% often distracted; 46% sometimes for a total of 55%
- 30 to 49: 17% often distracted; 52% sometimes for a total of 69%
- 18 to 29: 20% often distracted; 55% sometimes for a total of 75%
About 56% of parents say they spend too much time on their smartphone
- 36% say they spend the right amount of time on their phone; 6% say they spend too little time
- Moms more likely than dads to report excessive smartphone use (61% vs. 49%)
- Whites also more likely to say they spend too much time on their smartphone (60% compared with 52% of black parents and 46% of Hispanic parents)
- 65% of parents 18 to 29 years old reported excessive smartphone use; 58% among parents 30 to 49; 36% among parents 50 and older
- Parents with a high school education or less were less likely to report excessive smartphone use (47% vs. 60% for some college vs. 59% for a college degree or higher)
73% of American parents think it’s OK for kids to have smartphones only at age 12 or after
- Just 22% express agreement that it is fine for kids younger than 12 to have smartphones
- 4% say kids, regardless of their age, should not have smartphones at all
- 65% of parents say tablets are OK for kids younger than 12 to have
60% of parents who have a child age 11 or younger say that the child has used or interacted with a smartphone. That comes in third behind a television (88%) and tablet (67%).
60% of parents with children 11 or younger who use a smartphone say their kids began interacting with one prior to age 5
- 31% of parents say their child was age 0-2 at the time of first interaction
- 29% of parents say their child was 3 or 4
- 26% of parents say their child was 5 to 8
- 14% of parents say their child was 9 to 11
About 17% of parents with children 11 or younger say their child has their own smartphone
- 22% of parents with a high school education or less say their child 11 or younger has their own smartphone
- It’s 19% for parents with some college education
- It’s 11% for parents with a college degree or more
- About 51% say their child got the smartphone from age 9 to 11
- 35% say it happened from 5 to 8
Easier contact is a major reason for children 11 and younger to have their own smartphones
Pew Research gave potential reasons for children 11 or younger to have their own smartphone.
- Easier contact between parents and children was a major reason (78%)
- Entertainment (25%), homework (9%), and classmates, friends, and peers having smartphones (6%) were other major reasons
36% of parents with children 11 or younger who have their own smartphones say the child uses a voice assistant
- 82% of parents say their children use the voice assistant to play music
- 66% of parents say their children use the voice assistant to get information
- 47% of parents say their children use the voice assistant to hear jokes
- 30% of parents say their children use the voice assistant to play games
52% of moms who use a voice assistant use it on a smartphone, more than on other devices
- 34% on a smart speaker
- 25% on a tablet
- 22% on a computer
- 14% on any other device
Children under 12 are more likely to use social media if they have their own smartphone
- 10% of parents who say their child doesn’t have a smartphone report that the child is on any social media platform
- 42% of parents with children who have their own smartphones report that the child is on TikTok. 31% report that their child is on Snapchat
About 7 in 10 parents say smartphones have more potential to harm their children than do good. The “more harmful than good” belief is consistent regardless of demographic (parents’ age, education, race, etc.)
- 71% of parents think that the increased access smartphones bring could be more harmful than beneficial to children younger than 12
- 27% view the potential benefits as greater than the possible harm
- 71% of parents say smartphones could hinder their children’s ability to learn social skills; 21% say it could help; 8% say smartphones won’t make a difference
- 68% of parents say smartphones could hinder their children forming healthy friendships; 19% say it could help; 13% say smartphones won’t make a difference
- 46% of parents say smartphones could hinder their children’s creativity; 40% say it could help; 13% say smartphones won’t make a difference
- 45% of parents say smartphones could hinder their children’s pursuit of hobbies and interests; 44% say it could help; 11% say smartphones won’t make a difference
62% of parents with younger kids using smartphones say the kids spend an appropriate amount of time on them
Pew Research talked with parents whose children 11 or younger use a particular technology such as a smartphone. The findings:
- Smartphones: 24% of the parents say their kids spend too much time on smartphones. 13% said the children spend too little time, and 62% say they spend about the right amount of time.
- Video games: 26% of the parents say their kids spend too much time playing video games. 14% said the children spend too little time, and 59% say they spend about the right amount of time.
- Social media: 20% of the parents say their kids spend too much time on social media. 21% said the children spend too little time, and 55% say they spend about the right amount of time.
Who is in charge of kids’ smartphone use?
Overwhelmingly, parents in a Common Sense Media survey believe that parents and caregivers should be the ones regulating children’s smartphone use.
- 89% say parents or caregivers are in charge
- 5% say children are in charge of their own smartphone use
- 2% say it’s device manufacturers
- 1% prefer that the companies making apps be in charge
- 3% had an “other” answer or no answer
In the same survey, 47 percent of parents said their child is addicted to mobile devices. Fifty percent worry about the effects of mobile device usage on their kids’ mental health.
- One to two hours a day of electronic device use (smartphone, tablet, computer) is probably OK
- Three hours may still be OK but isn’t ideal
- The risk of increased depression and suicidal thoughts kicks in big time at four hours and increases at five hours and beyond
- 14 is the ideal age for kids to get a smartphone
However, researcher Jean Twenge was careful to explain that correlation doesn’t prove causation. In the study, teens answered yes/no statements along the lines of, “I feel my life is not very useful,” and “I feel I can’t do anything right.”
- In 2010, 16% of teens answered yes to three or more of these questions.
- In 2015, 22% did.
- The more time teens spent on devices, the higher the chance of depression. (Plenty of other studies show similar results.)
- Doing hours of in-person activities such as sports or hanging out at the mall helps balance out or safeguard against the potential negative effects of devices.
- The biggest jump was among girls, who were six times likelier than boys to answer a statement in the affirmative.
- Twenge theorizes girls are more affected since boys use a bigger chunk of their screen time on games. More girls gravitate to social media, which can lead to self-esteem, insecurity, and confidence issues.
In early 2020 (before COVID-19 in the U.S.), children had roughly equal access to smartphones, cable, and TV sets at home, regardless of household income
- Income played much more of a role for the presence of computers, tablets, internet, and subscription services such as Hulu or Netflix.
- With smartphones, the percentage difference was 4% between higher-income households (earning more than $75,000, 99% smartphone use) and lower-income households (earning less than $30,000, 95% smartphone use)
- The smartphone digital divide has closed considerably since 2011. Then, 27% of lower-income families had smartphones in the house while 57% of higher-income did. In 2013, the percentages were 51% (lower income) and 76% (higher income). In 2017, they were 89% (lower income) and 98% (higher income).
In a Common Sense Media survey, about 25% of teachers said schools’ cellphone policies were difficult to follow. About 66% said the policies were easy to follow
- Generally, social media, data protection, technology, and/or acceptable use policies were easier to follow.
- Cellphone policies account for about 80% of technology-related policies that schools develop. Separately or in conjunction, schools may have student data privacy policies (74%), technology/acceptable use policies (72%), social media policies (71%), and digital citizenship policies (48%).
- High school teachers had more issues than lower-level teachers getting students to follow a school’s cellphone or technology policy.
The Types of Smartphones We Own and the Longest-Lasting Batteries
Apple leads Android with a higher share of smartphone subscribers, as of March 2021
- Apple – 52.6%
- Android – 46.8%
- Microsoft – 0.4%
- Blackberry – 0.1%
The story was different in January 2012…
- Android – 48.6%
- Apple – 29.5%
- Blackberry – 15.2%
- Microsoft – 4.4%
Apple had the highest share of smartphone subscribers in March 2021; Samsung came in second
- Apple – 52.6%
- Samsung – 25.7%
- LG – 6.3%
- Motorola – 4.1%
- HTC – 0.2%
Samsung Galaxy M31 has most impressive smartphone battery life
For these battery life tests, a continuous video playback with scenes from Spider-Man 2 ran. Phones were set to airplane mode.
- Samsung Galaxy M31 – 30 hours 20 minutes
- Motorola Moto G9 Power – 28 hours 50 minutes
- OnePlus 8 – 26 hours 47 minutes
- OnePlus 8T – 26 hours 43 minutes
- Motorola Moto G7 Power – 26 hours 30 minutes
- Samsung Galaxy A12 – 26 hours 22 minutes
- Samsung Galaxy A70 – 25 hours 22 minutes
- Huawei Mate 40 Pro – 24 hours 51 minutes
- Samsung Galaxy S10 – 24 hours 2 minutes
- Google Pixel 4a 5G – 23 hours 50 minutes
- Samsung Galaxy A90 5G – 23 hours 45 minutes
- Xiaomi Mi Note 10 – 23 hours 39 minutes
- Google Pixel 5 – 23 hours 38 minutes
- Xiaomi Mi 9 – 23 hours 25 minutes
- Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G – 23 hours 12 minutes
- Motorola Moto G 5G Plus – 22 hours 54 minutes
- Samsung Galaxy A21s – 22 hours 54 minutes
- Asus ZenFone 6 – 22 hours 50 minutes
- Motorola One Macro – 22 hours 50 minutes
- Sony Xperia 5 II – 22 hours 48 minutes
One thing from this list jumps out: No iPhones. So, did the researchers not test iPhones? Actually, they did! iPhones just didn’t make the overall top 20. Let’s check out some iPhone battery life findings, then.
- Apple iPhone 5C – 11 hours 39 minutes
- Apple iPhone 7 – 13 hours 2 minutes
- Apple iPhone 8 Plus – 13 hours 54 minutes
- Apple iPhone X – 9 hours 22 minutes
- Apple iPhone Xs Max – 14 hours 18 minutes
- Apple iPhone 11 – 18 hours 36 minutes
- Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max – 20 hours 7 minutes
- Apple iPhone SE (2020) – 11 hours 35 minutes
- Apple iPhone 12 – 16 hours 39 minutes
- Apple iPhone 12 mini – 14 hours 48 minutes
- Apple iPhone 12 Pro – 18 hours 1 minute
- Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max – 16 hours 26 minutes
Smartphone penetration rate is an economic indicator except in Japan
A country with an advanced economy should feature a smartphone penetration rate of at least 70 percent. Japan is a huge exception to this “rule” since its penetration rate is just under 60 percent.
China is #1 for most smartphone users in the world
- China has nearly 912 million smartphone users.
98.3% of users access Facebook on some type of mobile phone
- 81% access Facebook solely through a mobile phone
- 17.3% use both phones and computers
- 1.7% use a laptop or desktop computer
Smartphone Usage Stats
These devices we carry in our pockets, purses, and hands sure do make for a lot of stats. As smartphones’ uses and capabilities grow, so will the number of stats, probably!
References and Footnotes