The percentage of U.S. adults using smartphones to get location-based information has nearly doubled in less than a year, to 41 percent. That skyrocketing use of location-based data, which reflects the growing potential for location-based marketing and other such commercial services, is one of the findings in a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Smartphone ownership also continues to increase, from 35 percent of American adults in 2011 to 46 percent in 2012, which has helped to drive the increase in location information usage. The survey was conducted in January and February of this year, through telephone interviews with 2,253 adults ages 18 and older. About 40 percent of the interviews were conducted over cell phones, with the rest over landlines.
General location-based services can range from GPS-enabled map services to listings and reviews of nearby restaurants. Seventy-four percent of smartphone owners will obtain directions or recommendations based on where they are, an increase of about 50 percent over 2011.
Geosocial services map one's designated friends when they are nearby, and allow for communication and updating of people's positions.
The use of geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla continues to grow, from 12 percent of smartphone owners in 2011 to 18 percent this year, with nearly all of those also getting location-based directions. This represents about 10 percent of all U.S. adults.
Gowalla was purchased late last year by Facebook, and was soon thereafter shut down. Facebook has also ended its Facebook Places location-sharing service, and now provides a location layer on top of most of its offerings.
The study found that, while there are still significant demographic differences for this kind of smartphone usage, they are less diverse than in May 2011, when the Pew survey was last taken.
Differences Among Groups
Unsurprisingly, younger people are more likely than older ones to use either location-based services or "check-in" geosocial ones. For young adults aged 18-29, 23 percent use geosocial services, an increase from 18 percent last year. Among smartphone owners 50 and over, the rate of usage is 14 percent, which, while less than the younger set, is a leap from 2 percent usage last year.
In lower-income households, smartphone owners are a bit more likely to use geosocial services, but less likely to use other location-based information. Twenty-three percent of those with incomes of less than $40,000 annually used the services. For individuals with income $40,000 to $75,000, it was 21 percent, and, over $75,000, 15 percent.
Similarly, there were few differences based on educational level. College grads, those with some college, and those with a high school diploma or less all use the services about the same -- 16 percent, 19 percent, and 20 percent, respectively. The study found no significant different in usage based on race or ethnicity.
Men and women use the services on a roughly equal basis -- 17 percent for men and 20 percent for women in 2012.