Mobile Phone Is No. 1 U.S. Gadget, Pew Says

Cell phones, including feature and smartphones top the electronic gadget list in the U.S., followed by desktops and laptops, according to Pew. Look out for the rise of tablets.

The rise of mobile computing devices has been well-trodden ground in the media for the last few years, but researchers are crunching new data to quantify the growth and adoption of cell phones, gaming consoles and computers.

Cell phones lead the pack. Pew Internet and American Life Project found that some 85 percent of U.S. citizens now own a cell phone, with 96 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds owning a handset to make calls and send text messages or surf the Web and use Internet applications.

While calling via a phone has become a natural communications medium, we might also thank edgy smartphones such as Apple's iPhone, as well as gadgets based on Google's Android operating system and the forthcoming Microsoft Windows Phone 7, for boosting the demand for mobile phones.

Pew, which surveyed 3,001 American adults between Aug. 9 and Sept. 13, found that computers were the No. 2 gadget, with 76 percent of Americans owning a desktop or laptop.

While that number would no doubt seem low to those working in the computing industry, Pew research specialist Aaron Smith said laptop ownership has grown from 30 percent to 52 percent since 2006, with ownership of desktop machines declining.

So the proliferation of laptops triggered a decline in desktops, but what machines will precipitate a drop in laptops? Tablet computers, of course.

It's early days yet for tablets such as Apple's iPad and the emerging Samsung Galaxy Tab and tablet devices based on Google's Android operating system from Archos, LG and Dell, among others.

As these devices gain traction among consumers-ABI Research anticipates 11 million tablets will ship by year's end-businesses will have to adapt and begin ordering tablets for their employees.

At the least, IT managers may be tasked with providing enterprise-grade security for employees who buy their own tablet and want to use it for work.

But tablets and their electronic reader devices such as the Amazon Kindle are proving popular among the early adopters, Pew found.

"However, these devices are proving popular with traditional early adopter groups such as the affluent and highly educated-ownership rates for tablets and e-book readers among college graduates and those earning $75,000 or more per year are roughly double the national average," Smith said.

Rounding out the popular device list are MP3 players, with 47 percent of Americans owning an MP3 player such as an Apple iPod, up from the 11 percent who owned such a gadget in 2005.

Some 42 percent of Americans polled said they owned game consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's PlayStation.

Interestingly, 8-in-10 Americans own two or more of these devices, with the average adult owning three of the 7 gadgets considered for Pew's survey.

Moreover, device ownership is often correlated with age, with younger survey participants under 45 claiming to own four devices and those 55 and up owning just two or a single gadget.