As smartphone ownership and mobile Web access pervade American culture, the imperative for federal agencies to serve the public through mobile-friendly websites is greater than ever, especially if their mission is to support underprivileged communities.
According to a new Pew Research Center study, 40 percent of surveyed smartphone users accessed government services or information with their mobile devices — a finding that some say highlights a need for federal websites to be responsive and mobile friendly.
Overall, nearly two-thirds of Americans now tote around a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011, and about 19 percent of the country uses those devices as their primary means of Internet connectivity, researchers determined.
Breaking down how smartphone users traverse the Web with their devices, Pew found during the weekslong survey that many Americans use their phones for more than calling, texting and posting to their Facebook accounts. Many search for health-related information, do online banking and take classes on their (typically) tiny devices.
“From breaking news and safety information in a disaster, to reporting community issues, to researching health issues, to looking up government services — smartphones are a critically important tool for government agencies to serve and connect with the people they serve,” the General Services Administration’s DigitalGov community wrote in a blog post about the report Tuesday.
Pew’s findings also show that smartphone ownership is no longer a topic divided along socioeconomic lines, though traditional broadband access tends to be. In fact, the Pew report found that “for a number of Americans, smartphones serve as an essential connection to the broader world of online information,” particularly “[t]hose with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites.”
Referred to as the “smartphone-dependent” in the report, about “10 percent of Americans own a smartphone but do not have any other form of high-speed internet access at home beyond their phone’s data plan” and “15 percent of Americans own a smartphone but say that they have a limited number of ways to get online other than their cell phone.” About 7 percent of the population falls into both categories.
That means agencies that serve those communities must be more mobile-focused, DigitalGov says in its post.
“If your agency primarily serves underprivileged, low-income or minority communities, these rates are even higher, and it is exponentially more crucial to your mission to prepare your digital content to be mobile-optimized as soon as possible, if not first, before the desktop experience,” the post says.
President Barack Obama pushed federal websites to be responsive in his 2012 Digital Strategy.
Pew’s research also highlights other insights like what age groups are most smartphone-dependent for Internet connectivity and what features Americans use most on their devices.