More than half of Americans own a smartphone. Now what?

Boosting smartphone ownership for low income earners and the elderly could be tough, analyst says

A majority of Americans -- about 56% -- now own a smartphone, according to Pew Research Center's latest survey released Wednesday.

The question now becomes: What will it take to raise that percentage even higher? Average prices are dropping globally, but that alone won't cause a sudden boost in smartphone adoption in the U.S., said Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst.

The Pew survey involved 1,127 adults who were asked about smartphone ownership in April and May. Two years ago, in May 2011, just 35% of Americans owned a smartphone.

Pew found that a majority (55%) of Americans in their mid-40s through mid-50s are now smartphone owners. They have joined the high-ownership age categories of 18-24 (79%) , 25-34 (81%) and 35-44 (69%).

For older Americans, however, smartphone ownership is still low. Only 18% of those 65 and older have the devices, as do 39% of those between 55-64.

Incomes levels make a difference. While younger Americans of all income levels tend to own smartphones, older, wealthier Americans own more smartphones than their poorer counterparts.

More smartphone owners also have higher levels of education and income, Pew found. And higher income earners own more smartphones.

As for the breakdown by operating system, Android phones were owned by 28% of respondents, iPhones, by 25%, BlackBerry, by 4% and Windows, by 1%. (BlackBerry ownership is down from two years ago, when it was at 10% ownership.) Pew found that men more than women (31% to 26%) favor Android phones; while women more than men favor iPhones (26% to 24%).

Pew also found some race-based differences in smartphone ownership: 64% of blacks own smartphones, compared to 53% of whites and 60% of Hispanics. White smartphone owners narrowly favor iPhone over Android (27% to 26%), while blacks heavily favor Android over iPhone (42% to 16%). Hispanics narrowly favor Android devices over iPhones (27% to 26%).

Smartphones are seen by some groups as an affordable way to lessen the digital divide.

As smartphone ownership rises, smartphone prices are falling, according to research firm IDC. It found that average smartphone prices globally have dropped from $443 in 2011 to $372 this year, which would tend to favor more smartphone purchasing in emerging countries where average incomes are lower.

Could those trends eventually play out in the U.S.?

"It's obvious smartphone use is a generational thing and I don't think many people in their 60's and 70's will be adopting smartphones anytime soon," Llamas said. "And I don't think average prices coming down will necessarily boost adoption rates in the U.S. Lower phone prices are not a slam dunk. "

Llamas said there are already deals on smartphones that offer recent models for $100 or even free. But those deals usually require a service plan that can be costly for someone used to paying $35 a month for voice-only service on a feature phone. "Going from $35 to $100 a month for a smartphone plan is a big jolt," he said.

Carriers do work to offer service plans that are more affordable and can attract more smartphone users, he said. In a recent example, AT&T launched a subsidiary, Aio Wireless, in mid-May to provide monthly plans from $35 to $70 a month for unlimited talk, text and data. Phones range from $50 to $650, the latter for a iPhone 5.

Even so, smartphone adoption beyond existing demographic groups in the U.S. will come at a slower pace than in recent boom years, Llamas said.

This article, More than half of Americans own a smartphone. Now what?, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobilesmartphoneswirelessNetworkingIDCconsumer electronicsMobile/Wireless

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?