Late Majority: How Smartphones Matured the Mobile Market

In 2012 smartphones became the majority of mobile handsets in the U.S. for the first time, keeping hundreds of millions of Americans constantly connected to the mobile web and increasingly using apps. This was a change many had anticipated, including yours truly who wrote about best practices for the mobile web way back in the first month of this blog circa 2009, naive to the changes smartphone apps would have on consumer’s daily activities. As far as predictions go I missed the mark a bit, though hardly as far off as Steve Balmer. It’s another example of how it’s hard predict how consumers will embrace and use technology until it’s in their hands.

Back in 2009 I was just another early adopter hoping on the iPhone’s bandwagon, and like many early adopters in Roger’s diffusion of innovation model I found new ways to make my smartphone fit my internet enabled lifestyle; none of which would pursued my parents to buy smartphones of their own. But it was clear which way the wind was blowing in digital: the future would be increasingly high-speed on mobile, and smartphones would reshape how we use the internet.

We can use this same approach – measuring the trends in mobile – to anticipate what’s next in the market. Today smartphones make up nearly two-thirds of mobile phone owners (65%) in the U.S., putting these devices in the “late majority” phase of adoption. That means the exponential growth we’ve seen in mobile is likely to begin tappering for smartphone makers, though providing more opportunities for publishers and marketers alike in the years to come.

To help tell the story of how the smartphone market has reshaped mobile and visualize the current state-of-mobile, I built an infographic (see below). First a disclosure: I created the infographic using publicly posted data published an industry-expert source (Nielsen) who are also my employer, though the ideas shared on this blog are my own (see my policy page for full disclosure):

Mobile Majority: Smartphones

| Create infographics

As the infographic illustrates, as the smartphone market grows there are now fewer first-time smartphone buyers, meaning the market is only opening for the late adopters and laggards in the innovation diffusion curve. But the data also shows that consumers are increasingly consolidating around two smartphone platforms, Android and iOS, locking out competing platforms and possibly making mobile owners more likely to upgrade/replace their smartphones with newer handsets running the same OS.  That gives Microsoft an uphill battle as they try to grow their user base, and tough news for the embattled RIM Blackberry who led the smartphone market just a few years ago only to stand on the edge of bankruptcy today.

While this is challenging news for mobile manufacturers increasingly locked in their battle for market share, it’s positive news for marketers. Now that 93% of smartphone owners own either iPhone or Android handsets, it’s easier than ever to design apps for either of the two platforms (or both) and still reach the vast majority of consumers. That should simplify marketer’s mobile strategies, designing singular experiences for interacting with consumers on their smartphones.

So what’s next for the mobile market?  Looking at the current trends, the proliferation of large high-resolution smartphone screens and expanding coverage of 4G mobile broadband connections points towards the growth in mobile video viewing, at least provided data plans expand their bandwidth accordingly.  Increasingly consumers are using their devices not just as second-screens giving them internet connections out of home, but more and more as the primary computing device they use to browse the web and access media through apps.  At the very least, smartphones are here to stay for consumers, and advertisers and marketers will need to reach these audiences whenever and wherever they go…