Smartphone Usage: At What Point is the Whole Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts?

by Kenneth Mallory on May 26, 2013

No Cell Phone Service - David BecherAs the nation continues to work toward closing the digital divide, many have lauded mobile broadband as a valuable tool in connecting the underserved.  However, some have raised questions as to whether mobile is ‘too good to be true.’

While smartphones have made a splash in the consumer marketplace and provide applications to simplify activities for millions of Americans, many may encounter difficulties when using their smartphones for practical applications, such as applying for jobs.

Potential candidates may encounter website design barriers when accessing job boards designed for PCs rather than mobile devices.

An article in the Washington Post explained: “Recent studies have shown that many large employers have not adapted their job application Web sites for smartphones and tablets, a decision that analysts say could put them at a disadvantage for landing new staffers as an increasing volume of Web traffic comes from mobile devices.”

This has overarching implications for minorities and low-income individuals who rely on their phones to access the Internet.  Mobile wireless is a critically important component in bridging the digital divide. According to Pew, “half (51%) of African-American cell internet users do most of their online browsing on their phone, double the proportion for whites (24%). Two in five Latino cell internet users (42%) also fall into the ‘cell-mostly’ category.”

But in order to fully realize our digital future, we need to ensure that the applications are more functional for practical uses.  These facts, along with a double-digit unemployment rate facing many minority Americans, make it imperative that more companies develop applications that facilitate easier experiences for smartphone users when applying for jobs.

Smartphones Can Only Thrive in a ‘Smart’ Ecosystem

Smartphones, by themselves, will not close the digital divide.  Some suggest that smartphones are veritable “equalizers” and can help to narrow the digital divide, along with several health and social disparities, by providing minority Americans with a means to access broadband internet at a remarkable rate.  And while such assertions might be true – mobile provides access to the infrastructure – without an infrastructure that delivers easy access to practical tools, relying solely on mobile connections to bridge the divide will only provide half of the solution.

Smartphones are successful in improving the lives of Americans because they provide a platform to access vast amounts of information through broadband technology and are able to host unique content and myriad applications.  As the National Broadband Plan states (emphasis added): “The broadband ecosystem includes applications and content: e-mail, search, news, maps, sales and marketing appli­cations used by businesses, user-generated video and hundreds of thousands of more specialized uses. Ultimately, the value of broadband is realized when it delivers useful applications and content to end-users.”

It seems evident that the continued success of smartphones to advance our society will depend not only on Americans’ access to the phones and dataplans, but on easily navigatable content and applications along with efforts to teach digital literacy and stress the importance of privacy and security for mobile applications.  While broadband uses evolve, our policies and initiatives must also evolve to develop content that is truly tailored to the unique needs of users.

  • Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has freelanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.

  • Follow Us on Facebook
  • Follow Us on Twitter
  • Subscribe to Newsletter

Previous post:

Next post: