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Americans Don’t Make Full Use of Their Phones

Apparently you guys don’t take full advantage of your smartphones, at least that’s what this latest poll from Harris says. It seems people buy smartphones and don’t really use them except for making phone calls, imagine that?!  There’s a whole lot of data in here, so sit back, relax and enjoy it and see if this sounds like you? Do you use your smartphone to its fullest extent? Or do you primarily make phone calls with it?


Smart phones can perform countless functions, but how many people take advantage of the time-saving and paper-saving capabilities that are offered?  According to a recent Harris Poll, very few are taking advantage.  Smart phones today can store information to make our lives more efficient – information that can be scanned to make a purchase, or displayed as a ticket for admission, allowing us freedom from printed confirmations or carrying bulky wallets.  However, when asked about a list of items that one could scan their mobile or smart phone for, only small minorities report having done so in each case.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,056 adults surveyed online between February 6 and 13, 2012 by Harris Interactive .

Only 5% of Americans say that they have scanned their phone for admission to a movie or as an airline ticket, and fewer say they have done so to pay for clothing or electronics (3%), admission to a concert, live theater or performance (3%), to pay for a convenience item such as coffee (3%) or something else (7%). Two in five say they have never scanned their mobile or smart phone for any reason (40%) and slightly more say they do not have a mobile or smart phone with this capability (45%). Although Echo Boomers, aged 18-35, are most likely to have scanned their phone for all of the items listed, even they are not doing this at remarkable rates (between 5% and 10% for each item).

While few may be actively engaging with these functions, there is also a divide on the levels of comfort associated with these behaviors as well. Just under half of  Americans (47%) say they are comfortable using a mobile scan as an admission ticket to movies, concerts or live theater performances, while 38% are not comfortable with it — with 25% not at all comfortable; 15% are not sure. About the same number of people are comfortable (41%) and not comfortable (43%) using a mobile scan as an airline, train or other transportation ticket; 15% are again, not sure.

Slightly fewer are comfortable using a mobile app that would allow them to make purchases at a retailer or company as they would with a gift card (39%) while 47% are not comfortable with this and 14% are not sure. The only item where a majority opinion is seen, is with using a mobile app that would store credit card information, allowing people to make purchases at a retailer or company as they would with a credit card; 63% are not comfortable with this with over two in five (45%) not at all comfortable. Only one quarter (24%) of Americans are comfortable with this, and 13% are not sure.

Looking at those who are comfortable with the various items, several noticeable trends emerge:

  • There is comfort in youth – younger adults are more comfortable than those older with each item listed;
  • Men are more comfortable with each item than are women; and,
  • Those who have scanned their smart phone for any one of a number of reasons are more comfortable with each capability than are those who have never scanned their phone, or do not have a phone with that technology.

This month, the United States celebrates the 150th anniversary of its paper money.  With that in mind, theHarris Poll sought to learn when, if ever, people think that information stored on mobile phones will eclipse cash payments for a majority of purchases.  While very few people think that will happen within the next year (3%), over one in ten think it will happen in 1 to less than 3 years (13%) and 18% think it will happen between 3 and 5 years.  One in five (21%) say it will happen in 5 to less than 10 years and 15% say it will happen in 10 years or more; 30% say it will never happen.  There are only slight differences in opinion by age, although women think that this will happen in less than 3 years significantly more than men do (20% versus 13%).  Men, on the other hand, are more likely to say it will happen in 10 years or more (17% versus 12%).

So What?

It seems at the moment technology capabilities outpace changing behavior—there are many new functions available that most people either haven’t tried or admit to being uncomfortable with.  This presents an interesting conundrum—it seems people like having the latest in technology, as the wait lists and lines for newly released products indicate, yet beyond early adopters, many people don’t take advantage of the new functions available to them.  As some of this technology becomes more commonplace, it will be interesting to see how Americans begin to incorporate it into their lives.


This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 6 and 13, 2012 among 2,056 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

Q830, 835, 840

The Harris Poll ® #25, March 7, 2012
By Samantha Braverman, Sr. Project Researcher, Harris Interactive

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