Pew Research: A snapshot of digital saturation

Plus: Why Apple is making phones that last longer.

From Internet, social media use and device ownership in U.S. have plateaued after years of growth:

The shares of U.S. adults who say they use the internet, use social media, own a smartphone or own a tablet computer are all nearly identical to the shares who said so in 2016. The share who say they have broadband internet service at home currently stands at 65% – nearly identical to the 67% who said this in a survey conducted in summer 2015. And when it comes to desktop or laptop ownership, there has actually been a small dip in the overall numbers over the last two years – from 78% in 2016 to 73% today.

A contributing factor behind this slowing growth is that parts of the population have reached near-saturation levels of adoption of some technologies. Put simply, in some instances there just aren’t many non-users left. For example, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone. And a similar share of those in higher-income households have laptops or desktops.

Below: Full chart (click to enlarge).

pew saturation

My take: Looks a lot like the work of friend-of-the-blog Horace Dediu, who has made a multiyear study of saturation as it relates to Apple (see, for example,  here). Two weeks ago Dediu suggested that it makes counterintuitive sense for the company, in a saturated market, to make devices that last longer. From Asymco: Lasts longer:

Fundamentally, Apple is betting on having customers not selling them products.


  1. David Emery said:
    If you subtract “desktop/laptop computer” from “have Internet”, that implies 20% are accessing the internet solely via tablets or phones. Interesting!

    September 29, 2018
  2. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    After a few too many years and far too many miles, I recently purchased a new car. One of the deciding factors in the make and model I chose to purchase was that I wanted Apple CarPlay. Because I chose a CarPlay equipped vehicle, I also chose not to purchase a separate navigation system. I’ll use my iPhone’s navigation system instead. Chances are slim I’ll subscribe to the SiriusXM service after the trial period expires in favor of CarPlay, my iPhone and Apple Music.

    Because it’s been so many years since I purchased a new car, it’s my first vehicle with Bluetooth which means my AirPods get a rest during drive time and the side collision indicators in the car’s side mirrors will (hopefully) reduce the chances of an expensive mishap on the road.

    Anyone like me that spends drive time on the highways and byways of Los Angeles County knows there’s no shortage of cars on the road and there are far more cars on the road during those times than transportation infrastructure can adequately support. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for new cars. Although I intend to drive my new car for awhile, I also know advances in EV technology and the gradual reduction in costs will make a trade-in of my ICE vehicle economically attractive in just a few short years.

    My point is, innovation will prompt new car purchases as much as innovation in smartphones, tablets and desktops and mobile PCs prompt new technology purchases. Innovations such as Apple CarPlay was a determining factor in my choice of make and model of a new car and eliminated the need for an expensive navigation accessory. Because I’m a subscriber to Apple’s Annual Upgrade Program, I will trade-in my iPhone X for an iPhone XS Max not because my iPhone X isn’t an excellent handset but because I want the larger screen and the latest SOC and the upgrade program makes the purchase easy and economically attractive. Someone who wants my pre-owned iPhone X will be able to acquire it at a very attractive price. Conversely, our youngest just purchased a new iPhone XS simply because his four year-old iPhone 6 finally gave out.

    Perceived market saturation doesn’t necessarily dampen sales of new products. Similar to a car, a smartphone is now a necessity of modern life. I can’t get to work without a car and I won’t leave the house without my iPhone (or my Apple Watch). Thanks to Apple CarPlay, my car and my iPhone are integrated like never before.

    As long as Apple continues to innovate, there will always be demand for the company’s products and especially now that they are necessities of modern life.

    September 29, 2018
  3. Fred Stein said:
    A few observations from the chart.
    1) Margin or error is considerable. Note the fluctuations of some items year to year.
    1.1) Smartphone penetration may not be as flat as indicated (from 2016). That looks more like a sampling error. Either 2016 was over counted or 2018 under counted or both.
    2) Tablets are eating into desktop/laptop. Apple’s investment and focus is paying off.
    3) Smart watches are not included. Adding that would show that we’re not quite saturated. In 2017, they were 3% of the US population, maybe 4% of adults; And growing.(Source Statista)
    4) Some oddities raise concerns. Desktop/Laptop not counted until 2007 and smartphones not counted till 2011.
    5) They report internet access, not usage, which remains high growth.

    September 29, 2018

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