Pew: Smartphones Gain in Popularity, Thanks to iPhone, Android

Smartphones are owned by 46 percent of American adults, says the Pew Research Center. The fastest-growing segment is 18- to 24-year-olds, and iPhones are the most purchased.

Smartphone ownership continues to rise, especially among younger consumers and business users, says a March 1 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The fastest-growing group of smartphone addicts was 18- to 24-year-olds, though it's 25- to 34-year-olds who continue to own the lion's share.

However, Americans who are over the age of 65 are still shying away from these devices, although the Pew report found some modest growth in ownership.

As of February, 46 percent of American adults owned smartphones€”an 11 percent rise from the 35 percent of Americans with smartphones in May 2011. Among all American adults, two in five own a mobile phone that's not a smartphone. Or so they say. Knowing what kind of phone one owns isn't crystal clear to everyone, but most folks are getting better at it€”only 8 percent of cell phone owners are now unsure about whether their phone is a smartphone, compared with 14 percent a year ago.

Consequently, Pew qualifies its results by adding that is what cell owners "say."

Still, what they're saying is that they're buying phones, particularly iPhones. While Android phones dominate, the percent of iPhone users during the survey periods rose by 90 percent, from 10 percent to 19 percent of Americans. Android phone ownership, meanwhile, rose by 30 percent, from being in the hands of 15 percent of Americans in May 2011 to 20 percent in February 2012.

BlackBerry ownership, meanwhile, fell from 10 percent to 6 percent of phone owners during the same period. The number of phone owners with Windows and Palm devices held steady, at 1 percent€”a statistic no doubt ready to change, with Nokia's introduction of new Windows Phone devices.

In 2011, vendors shipped 488 million smartphones, according to research firm Canalys. Who's buying them?

"Nearly every major demographic group€”men and women, younger and middle-aged adults, urban and rural residents, the wealthy and the less well-off€”experienced a notable uptick in smartphone penetration over the last year," reports Pew. Overall adoption levels, it added, are at "60 percent or more within several cohorts, such as college graduates, 18 to 35 year olds and those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more."

The most modest growth, rising from 11 percent to 13 percent, was among Americans over the age of 65€”generally not a group highly targeted by smartphone marketers, in their defense.

Pew says that somewhat modest growth, a rise of 5 points, was also seen among Hispanics and Blacks, but both groups were ahead to begin with, and remain ahead.

While 30 percent of Whites owned a smartphone in May 2011, 44 percent of Blacks and 44 percent of Hispanics already did. In February 2012, the number of Whites who own smartphones jumped 15 points, to 45 percent€”which still has them behind the 49 percent of Blacks and 49 percent of Hispanics with smartphones.

During the survey period, smartphone ownership also grew more quickly in rural and urban geographies, than suburban. Though as of February, 50 percent of Americans in urban areas had smartphones, compared with 46 percent in suburban areas and 34 percent in rural.

Young adults€”18- to 24-year-olds€”were the most drastically growing group during the period, jumping 18 points, for a total of 67 percent now owning smartphones, up from 49 percent. However, across all demographic points, the most smartphones€”71 percent€”are owned by 25- to 34-year-olds, who likewise led in May 2011, when 58 percent owned smartphones.