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Upward mobility – Black America’s new addiction

by Cheryl Pearson McNeil
NNPA News Service

Any rom-com fans out there? I am talking about romantic comedies. So, who remembers "My Best Friend's Wedding," which starred Julia Roberts?

While I was channel-surfing the other day, I found myself cracking up when Robert's character – the hip, successful New York City food critic and best-selling author – whipped out her cool cell phone in a restaurant scene. It was a gigantic flip model – almost the size of a quart bottle of milk – with a nifty, retractable antenna.

Wow. And this movie came out just 15 years ago – in 1997. The cell phone in this scene could very well be pre-historic to you, depending on your age and your perspective.

Technology and our addiction to it are moving so quickly that a few months can seem like ancient history or a few years. New Nielsen consumer data of U.S. mobile subscribers reveals that between December 2011 and March 2012 – three short months – the number of cell phone owners who opted for smartphones rose from 47.8 percent to 50.4 percent. A year ago, less than 40 percent of all mobile subscribers in the country owned smartphones.

Chances are, you've got a smartphone, and might even be reading this column on your mobile device because the study reports that the majority of African-American mobile subscribers – 54.5 percent – now own smartphones, which are basically tiny computers that allow us to do almost everything, including talk to other people. Compare these numbers to a year ago when 33 percent of African-American mobile subscribers owned smartphones, which was reported in "The State of the African-American Consumer Report."

The battle between Apple iOS and Android OS, and other operating systems, continues. Apple remains the top manufacturer of smartphone handsets – iPhones – while Android was the top smartphone OS, with 48.5 percent of smartphone owners having a device that uses the Android system during the first quarter of 2012. Blackberry owners are a small but loyal group, holding on with an 11.6 percent share of the smartphone market.

Nielsen's look at U.S. smartphone owners breaks down who's purchasing and using what even further:

• 50.9 percent of women mobile subscribers opted for smartphones in March 2012 compared to 50.1 percent of men.

• Not surprisingly, more than two out of three young adults – from age 25 to 34 – own a smartphone.

• Asian Americans lead the pack as smartphone adopters with 67.3 percent using a smartphone as their primary mobile handset.

• Almost three-in-five Hispanic mobile subscribers – 57.3 percent – use smartphones.

In addition to their calling features and 24/7 availability, how do we use these devices? Again, what a difference a year makes. Another Nielsen study reports that all Android OS and Apple iOS users in the U.S. account for 88 percent of those who have downloaded an app – which is short for application – in the past 30 days; which means the number of apps per smartphone has jumped 28 percent, from 32 apps to 41.

It doesn't matter whether you're hunting for the best prices for anything from food to shoes, navigating your way through unfamiliar territory or catching the latest news scoop, there's an app for that. A constant, however, is the Top Five Apps: Facebook, YouTube, Android Market, Google Search and Gmail. The amount of time the average smartphone user spends on apps each day is 39 minutes compared to 37 minutes in 2011.

Among African American smartphone owners:

• 67 percent researched or looked up shopping information using a search engine.

• 64 percent visited a retail site/app.

• 58 percent looked up prices to compare between retailers.

• 55 percent read product reviews.

• 41 percent visited a shopping site/app.

• 33 percent looked for and downloaded a coupon.

• 30 percent are more likely than average to visit Twitter through a mobile web.

• 58 percent use mobile Internet – compared to 57 percent of Hispanics, 56 percent of Asians and 41 percent of whites.

• 79 percent text – compared to 78 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of Asians and 68 percent of whites.

The downside of the miracle of smartphones is the issue of privacy. In 2012, Nielsen reports 73 percent of all smartphone owners – 70 percent in 2011 – expressed concern over the scary reality of personal data collection. Fifty-five percent were wary of sharing information of our whereabouts via those smartphone apps.

It's amazing how mobile apps have changed the way we exercise our recreational habits. When my teenage son was younger, I remember arming him with crayons and a coloring book in an effort keep him occupied and reduce his fidgeting during church services. Guess those childhood staples are almost obsolete. A little kid across the aisle from me last year was happily playing a game or "coloring" on his mom's – you guessed it – smartphone.

Sign o' the times.

(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.)

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