Smartphones Are Used By Nearly Half Of Americans

More Smartphones, More Money

Just last year my 70+ year old mother asked me to help her program the VCR. Then in February she bought an iPhone. I knew change was afoot. Like those first words from the moon, she sent me her first text message, "Hurrah!"

In barely five years since the iPhone was released, Apple's device and other smartphones, have overtaken the basic mobile phone. Nearly half, or 46 percent, of all Americans are using them, according to a new study from Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The invasion of smartphones, defined as mobile devices that connect to the Web, does not come cheap. A basic plan with text messaging and data for an AT&T iPhone can conservatively cost up to $100 a month--or $1,200 a year--for an individual plan. For families, that cost can add up to $3,000 for premium service. On Thursday, AT&T announced that it would no longer allow unlimited data plans on smartphones, opening up the possibility of far higher fees.

We haven't even addressed the cost of each smartphone, which can be between $200 and $600. Then add to that other bells and whistles, likes apps, games, accessories, and wifi access. Suddenly that's another hundred or more dollars each year. And the panic of losing an iPhone in the back of a taxi cab? Frankly, that's priceless.

Start totaling up those real numbers, and a family of four can easily spend up to $5,000 on services and hardware to stay connected each year. It makes the long-distance phone wars between AT&T and MCI during the 1990s seem quaintly priced in comparison.

The number of people using smartphones is growing fast too--in less than a year the number of smartphones owners grew 11 percent, according to the Pew study. Pew's latest findings were based on phone interviews with 2,253 adults between January 20 and February 19, 2012.

Also telling: the number of Americans who have no cell phone--even a basic mobile phone--at all is dropping. In February 2012 only 12 percent of Americans reported having no cell phone of any kind, down from 17 percent in May 2011.

As more people buy smartphones--which almost always require some kind of data plan on top of a phone plan--service providers have been increasingly trying to limit data plans and add new fees. In short, they have a captive audience and they want to make more money.

Last month, Verizon tried to institute a $2 fee to pay with a credit or debit card. The company scrapped the plan after customers protested.

So is it worth to have an iPhone? My mom's second text was a picture of the flowers I sent her on Valentine's Day. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But is it worth $1,200 a year? You tell us. Please share your comments below.

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