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MMV: U.S. Adult Smartphone Penetration 29% (Yes, Really)

By: 17 November 2009

Following up on the previous post about BIA/Kelsey’s Mobile Market View study, the big jump in smartphone penetration deserves a closer look.

Specifically the data show smartphone penetration to be 29 percent of U.S. adult mobile subscribers (up from 18 percent last year). This will immediately strike many as too high, as it did for me at first. Indeed, recent data from comScore put U.S. smartphone penetration closer to 20 percent of mobile subscribers.

But a few variables come into play to reconcile this difference and put these figures in better context. First, MMV’s sample includes ages 18 and up, while many other surveys such as comScore measure ages 13 and up. Higher smartphone penetration makes sense with greater purchasing power and proclivities of an adult sample. Teen use conversely skews toward feature phone-centric capabilities such as SMS.

Second, if you consider the rapid growth and falling prices of smartphones (especially touch screen devices), the jump from last year makes more sense. The recency of this survey, fielded in October, also put it closer to a current snapshot (albeit smaller sample) than data from comScore and others. In a quickly developing market, recency is obviously important.

To that point, consider other recent data that support a quickly accelerating smartphone market in the U.S. Specifically, Verizon recently reported that 40 percent of its handset sales are smartphones and T-Mobile predicts the same for Q4. If this is representative of the larger U.S. market, it means that smartphone penetration could approach this 40 percent during the hardware replacement cycles of the next 24 months.

Lastly, Nielsen reports we’re on track to see smartphones cross the 50 percent threshold by mid-2011 (yes, 18 months from now). Add it all up, and it makes more sense that 29 percent of U.S. adult mobile subscribers carry smartphones today. Still somewhat surprising, but the data show what they show, and carry strong implications for the direction of the mobile market and its monetization opportunities.

This and other mobile news are further discussed in our podcast this week, if you’re inclined.



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