The iPhone, Blackberry, Droid and smartphones in general dominate the buzz in the mobile market, but only 21% of American wireless subscribers are using a smartphone as of the fourth quarter 2009 compared to 19% in Q3 2009 and 14% at the end of 2008. We are just at the beginning of a new wireless era where smartphones will become the standard device consumers will use to connect to friends, the internet and the world at large. The share of smartphones as a proportion of overall device sales has increased to 29% for phone purchasers in the last six months and 45% of respondents to a Nielsen survey indicated that their next device will be a smartphone. If we combine these intentional data points with falling prices and increasing capabilities of these devices along with a explosion of applications for devices, we are seeing the beginning of a groundswell. This increase will be so rapid, that by the end of 2011, Nielsen expects more smartphones in the U.S. market than feature phones.
The Smartphone User
Slightly more males than females are getting smartphones (53% versus 47%) which is what we would expect for technical early adopter products. In terms of demographics, Hispanic Americans and Asians are slightly more likely to have a smartphone than what their share of population would indicate, which is a trend we see in the adoption of other mobile data services. While smartphones started out in the business segment, two-third of today’s buyers of smartphones are personal users.
In the last six months, roughly 77% of new smartphone buyers remained loyal to their wireless operator, while 18% switched to a new provider to get their new smartphone with the remaining percentage made up of first-time smartphone buyers. Interestingly enough, the percentage of people who switched carriers and got a new smartphone is not higher than that of the average wireless subscriber.
This indicates that the portfolio of the wireless carriers in general is robust enough to prevent any wide-spread smartphone flight from one carrier to the other, with very few exceptions. The added bonus for wireless carriers is that smartphone owners are significantly more satisfied (81%) with their device than feature phone owners (66%).
Features, features, features
Smartphones show higher application usage than feature phones even at the basic built-in application level. During Nielsen’s Mobile Insights survey we asked the respondents about features they’ve used in the last 30 days. The good news for the smartphone market is that people are actually taking advantage of the device capabilities.
The percentage of people who use their phone for only voice communications drops from 14% among new feature phone owners to 3% of smartphone owners. The use of the built-in camera and video capability jumps by almost 20% for both categories, due to the generally better quality and user friendliness of the features. Smartphones also often have a better speaker which translates into more frequent usage from about half of feature phone owners to about two-thirds of smartphone owners. Not surprisingly the use of Wi-Fi increases 10-fold from 5% for feature phone owners to 50% for smartphone users to satisfy the need for fast downloads.
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