Smartphone Adoption Growing Rapidly Worldwide

In 2012, an estimated six countries saw smartphone user penetration rates among mobile phone users rise above 50 percent for the first time.

The coming years will see a domino effect hit regions around the world as smartphones become the norm in more places, as the worldwide smartphone penetration rate among mobile users will remain just under one-third in 2013 and will approach the halfway point by 2017, according to a report from digital marketing, media and commerce specialist eMarketer.

By the end of 2012, more than half of mobile phone users in each country had made the switch from feature phones to smartphones, according to the report. South Korea led the world last year in the share of mobile users who used a smartphone, at 60 percent. Australia, at 53 percent, was the only other country in Asia-Pacific to pass the halfway mark in 2012, although Japan is set to follow in 2014, the report indicated.

In regional terms, only North America will boast average smartphone penetration rates above 50 percent this year among mobile users, as Canada crosses the 50 percent mark later in 2013. Western Europe as a whole is expected to cross that boundary in 2014.

In 2012, eMarketer estimated that six countries including South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States saw smartphone user penetration rates among mobile phone users rise above 50 percent for the first time.

As a percentage of population, a majority of residents in South Korea, Australia, Norway and Sweden are also estimated to use smartphones this year, though average penetration worldwide among the total population will come in under 20 percent.

Led by Nordic countries Norway and Sweden, along with the U.K., Western Europe boasted three countries with smartphone penetration among mobile users above 50 percent in 2012. Two other Nordic countries and the Netherlands will follow close behind, and larger markets including Germany, France, Italy and Spain are all projected to pass the smartphone tipping point in 2014.

The company developed its forecast through a methodology where it forms its estimates of mobile and smartphone usage and penetration through an analysis of survey and traffic data from research firms and regulatory agencies, historical trends, company-specific data and country-specific demographic and socio-economic factors.

In this case, eMarketer evaluated more than 2,200 data points from more than 220 research sources--all of which are evaluated by eMarketer for historical accuracy, definitional discrepancies and methodology--before developing a bottom-up model for global mobile phone and smartphone usage.

This is also the year that smartphone shipments will for the first time surpass shipments of feature phones. According to a report from NPD DisplaySearch, global smartphone shipments are expected to reach 937 million units in 2013, compared with just 889 million units for basic phones and feature phones.

Overall, between 2011 and 2016 smartphone shipments will grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26 percent, to 1.45 billion units, which will account for two-thirds of the mobile phone market.

Emerging markets are what are driving most of the smartphone growth, the report claims, due in large part to better download speeds as networks are upgraded to 3G and 4G networks. In these markets, entry-level smartphones priced below $200 are gaining momentum.