By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About 37 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 tap the Internet using a smartphone, up sharply in just a year, according to a 2012 Pew survey released on Wednesday.
Twenty-three percent of teens mainly go online using their phones and not a desktop or laptop computer, versus 15 percent of adults, the poll by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project showed.
Seventy-eight percent of teens have a cell phone, and 47 percent of those have smartphones. That means that 37 percent of all teens have smartphones, up from 23 percent in 2011, Pew said.
Mary Madden, a Pew researcher, said the smartphone figure was significant since teenagers typically set trends for Internet use, as they did with social media and texting.
"We see this as an important indicator moving forward," she told Reuters. Smartphones have built-in applications and Internet access.
The figure for smartphone use rises to 44 percent for those ages 14 to 17, in line with the 45 percent figure for adults, Madden said.
About three in four teenagers, or 74 percent, say they access the Internet on cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices at least occasionally.
The survey showed that 93 percent of teenagers have a computer or have access to one at home.
Youths living in households with lower income and less education are somewhat less likely to use the Internet, whether mobile or wired.
But 30 percent of teens living in households earning less than $30,000 a year mostly access the Internet using cell phones. The percentage is higher than for teens in households earning more than $50,000.
Pew surveyed 802 parents and their 802 teenagers between July 26 and September 30, 2012. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Gevirtz)