Smartphone Population Gains Users, Young and Old

eMarketer Digital Intelegence
APRIL 25, 2012

High smartphone penetration among 25- to 55-year-olds leaves room for growth at the opposite ends of the age spectrum

More than half of US mobile users will have a smartphone by the end of next year, and as users make the switch, their content consumption will grow to match the capabilities of their new phones. But as the audience grows, the group’s demographic composition will change, and marketers will need to keep up with new touchpoints for reaching the expanding community of smartphone users.

When it comes to the adoption of mobile technology—especially smartphones—age is one of the most important factors influencing consumer behavior.

The highest smartphone penetration rate in the US is among adults ages 25 to 55, whereas for general mobile phone users the age bracket skews a bit younger, ages 18 to 44, because people under age 25 are less able to afford higher-priced phones. But eMarketer expects declining prices, along with increased integration of smartphone functionality into daily life, to drive smartphone ownership among teenagers up to 50% by 2014. Adults ages 45 to 64 will see similar uptake.

US Smartphone Users, by Age, 2011-2016 (millions and % of population in each group)

Hispanics, one of the youngest ethnic groups in the US and one of the fastest-growing populations of smartphone users, will have the highest penetration rate for smartphone users by 2014, at 55%, according to eMarketer predictions. Hispanics and other minorities also account for very high engagement rates when it comes to mobile content, and demonstrate high usage of non-voice data applications, in line with smartphone use among younger adults. Whites, though, are now the fastest growing segment of smartphone owners due to their late adoption habits. eMarketer expects the gap between whites and minorities to decrease over time.

The majority of the smartphone market is now shared between Android and Apple operating systems. Android quickly became the top smartphone operating system in 2011 and will continue to claim the largest market share. eMarketer forecasts that by 2014 more than 45% of smartphone users will be using Google’s Android system and that its growth and that of Apple’s iOS platform will come at the expense of Microsoft and RIM (BlackBerry).

US Smartphone Users, by OS, 2010-2014 (millions, % change and % of population)

In the case of BlackBerry, usage is particularly difficult to forecast. RIM has suffered through a tumultuous period that has seen a sharp sales decline in the latest quarter, a catastrophic service outage and the ouster of top executives. In announcing the company’s earnings in March 2012, new chief executive Thorsten Heins touted RIM’s prospects but acknowledged that the company faced significant challenges. RIM is considering its options, including a possible sale of the company. eMarketer will monitor the mobile phone market and update its projections regularly.

The full report, “US Mobile Usage Forecast,” also answers these key questions:

  • How many mobile users, mobile connections and smartphone users are there in the US?
  • How will that audience change over the coming years in terms of age, race/ethnicity and the type of phones they use?
  • How many mobile internet users are turning to activities like mobile social networking, gaming and video viewing on their smartphones?

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