It wasn’t long ago that accessing the Internet required a hefty computer or laptop and a wired connection. These days, Internet-enabled smartphones and other mobile devices are everywhere. Smartphones are changing the way we browse the Internet, letting us leave our desks and pull up our favorite websites, browse Facebook, and check our email from anywhere. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re reading this from a mobile device.
More than half the mobile phone users in the United States today own a smartphone. As smartphone screens get larger and prices get lower—you can now get a low-end, prepaid smartphone for the about the same price as a traditional flip phone—more and more consumers are making the switch.
Lightweight and Portable
Smartphones are fast making inroads into the developing world, as they did in the developed world. One reason for the surge in popularity of smartphones is their ability to access information on-the-go. Connecting to the Net from a device that slips into your pocket instead of a hauling around a bulky laptop offers a lot of convenience. You can check your social network, answer e-mail or simply browse the Web while sunbathing on the beach or waiting in line at the market.
There are more mobile internet users than fixed internet users.
The integration of GPS into most smartphones has also changed the way we interact with the world. Maps on our phone can deliver turn-by-turn driving directions. Search results can be tailored to match our location. Augmented reality allows us to view information about local stores and attractions simply by holding up our phones. Gone are the days of getting lost in a new city or struggling to find the that out-of-the-way Mexican restaurant everyone’s talking about.
When accessing the Web from a smartphone, browsing won't be quite as fast as with a broadband connection, though mobile networks are quickly catching up. Modern high-speed mobile connections are more than fast enough to handle video games and streaming video, just don’t expect the same level of uninterrupted performance as you would experience using your home network. Of course, since modern smartphones and tablets can connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi, you should be able to enjoy the same speeds on any device using your home’s wireless network.
Smartphone screen sizes vary from a tiny 3.5 inches to the near-tablet-size 6 inches. It’s important to test out a few difference sizes and decide which is best for you. While viewing and usage becomes substantially easier, these larger screens can also be bulky and hard to fit in your pocket.
Approximately 11% of all internet users are “mobile only” and only use mobile devices.
Navigating a web page on a smaller screen requires dexterity. Website developers are well aware of this issue, and many sites are now customized especially for viewing on mobile devices. Mobile-compatible websites use an easier-to-navigate menu and a modified text and image layout that fits perfectly into the screen of your smartphone, eliminating the need to scroll horizontally.
The cost of mobile Internet access depends on your location, carrier, and cell phone plan. For example, in the United States, most carriers offer monthly data packages, similar to the packages offered for mobile minutes and texts. Subscribers can add additional data if they are approaching their monthly limit, or upgrade to a larger monthly plan as necessary. Some carriers offer unlimited data plans, though many of these include lower connections speeds after subscribers reach a monthly high-speed data limit.
Not all smartphones are designed the same. If you're planning on purchasing one, be sure to take it for a test drive to determine the smartphone's ease of handling. Most smartphones now utilize a virtual keyboard, meaning the keyboard is digitally displayed on the touchscreen, though some smartphones still include physical keys. Physical keys are easier for some people to navigate, but can significantly increase the weight of the device.
The operating system that powers your smartphone is another important consideration. Android and Apple’s iOS are the most popular smartphone operating systems. Android provides users with the ability to fully customize their phone experience, while iOS provides a simpler interface and integration with other Apple products.
The biggest difference between traditional web browsing and the mobile web experience is the use of apps. With your desktop or laptop, the web browser is your primary tool for accessing the Internet. On your phone, many Internet services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, online banking, and more can all be done without an Internet browser. Instead, you can download the service’s specialized app from your phone’s app store, and use the service in its own program, similar to the way you run computer programs like MS Word on your desktop computer.
The app market is forecasted to be worth $77 billion in 2017.
Apps vary from device to device, but the most popular Internet services are available on both major mobile platforms, as well as less-common phone platforms such as Windows and Blackberry.
Most modern cell phones, whether smartphones or traditional flip phones and sliders, include the ability to access the mobile web. Of course, your experience is going to be considerably different on a traditional cell phone than on a smartphone. For one thing, the screen size will be quite a bit smaller. For another, most non-smartphones won’t have the ability to access the high-speed mobile networks that modern smartphones can utilize, which means much slower browsing. Most of these phones also include much lower screen resolution, so graphics and images won’t look as smooth and crisp. Since they normally won’t include touch capabilities, you’ll need to use the keyboard for everything. That said, if you just need to check the weather or get an update on your next flight, these phones will manage it from just about anywhere.