Survey Shows Where The Next Wave Of Smartphone Adoption Will Happen

Cell phones are nearly universal, but smartphone penetration is concentrated in certain markets: the U.S., developed East Asian economies, and Europe. 

According to the Pew Research centre,  87 per cent of participants in the 21 countries surveyed owned a cell phone. Of those cell phone users, 26 per cent say they use their device to regularly use the Internet, which is a very rough approximation of smartphone penetration.

(It is possible to access the Internet on feature phones, and it’s a fairly common practice in some countries.)

However imperfect, Pew’s data offers interesting insight into smartphone penetration patterns internationally, especially differences in penetration among age groups in the countries surveyed. 

In the first set of countries, shown in the chart below, the youngest demographic surveyed, 18 to 29-year-olds, tend to be thoroughly penetrated. Among 30 to 49-year-olds, penetration rates are lower but still relatively high at over 50 per cent in the more mature smartphone markets and above 30 per cent in most of the other countries. 

This is why penetration is going to slow in these countries: the age groups with real potential for penetration are older and in less of a hurry to buy a smartphone— the early adopters are nearly tapped out.

These nine countries have a total population of 937 million.    

country penetration

The next wave of smartphone adoption will come from countries similar to those in our next chart, below. Although local market conditions are not necessarily comparable across these countries, they represent the major population centres that will drive increased global penetration. 

Although China’s 70 per cent penetration among young people appears impressive, the survey skewed towards urban areas and the younger generation is not as large as preceding ones because of the one-child policy instituted in 1979.

In any case, ownership in the next oldest demographic, 30 to 49-year-olds, trailed by some 42 percentage points in China, suggesting that there’s a great deal of potential there for the next wave of smartphone adoption among slightly older consumers. 

The countries in the below chart have a combined population of 3.2 billion.

country penetration