Smartphones Now Owned by Majority of American Adults
Image courtesy of Flickr user MIKI Yoshihito via Creative Commons license.

Nearly 60% of American adults own smartphones, a Pew Research report has found, a number that has gone up by about two thirds in only two years.

Android Takeover

In May 2011, 35% of Americans who responded to a Pew Research Center Internet & American Life survey said they owned smartphones. That number is up to 56%, according to a survey of 2,252 US adults contacted between April 17 and May 19, 2013. Pew conducted telephone interviews in Spanish and in English of 1,125 landline and 1,127 mobile phone numbers to come up with the staggering numbers.

The definition Pew used to determine who constituted a smartphone owner was anyone who said yes to one or both of the following questions: those who said their phone was a smartphone (55%) and those who said their phone operates on a smartphone platform common to the US market (58%).

We attribute the astonishing rise in smartphone ownership to have come from two places. One, the preponderance of inexpensive Android phones, and the spread of Apple's iPhone beyond just being carried by AT&T. Android phones accounted for just 11% of those surveyed in 2011, and in 2013 it's 28%. iPhone owners came in at 25% in 2013 compared to 10% in 2011. 

Every major demographic group has seen significant year over year smartphone adoption. Men, women, those in disparate age brackets and all races are knocking themselves over for smartphones.

Rich People Love iPhones

When broken down into age, gender, race, education and income levels, Android and iPhone adoption levels varied, but the outliers were among choices made by those with incomes over US$ 150,000 and those in the African-American population. Pew found those with incomes over US$ 150,000 were much more likely to say they owned an iPhone (49%), while African Americans were much more likely to say they owned an Android phone (42%).

Only those over 65 years of age have not adopted smartphones in significant year over year numbers.

This is all great info to know, but what what are those people actually doing with their devices? Pew doesn't go into that, but a recent survey by Wi-Fi provider iPass shows one thing smartphone users are doing is working more. Workers are feeling more productive and working longer hours across regions, the iPass Mobile Workforce Report found.

Learning Opportunities

Impact on Business

In the B2B space, we also know young people are much more likely to make purchases, even large ones, via mobile devices. Generation Y buys more online overall, according an Acquity Group report, but they are also more likely to do that buying via smartphones and tablets.

As to overarching trends, all this mobile device proliferation could lead to an explosion of wearable computing devices in the future, Internet researcher Mary Meeker has predicted. The technology is there, and people are obviously more amenable to the idea of mobile computing, so now it's just up retailers to integrate that tech into various kinds of gear.

For smartphones in particular, however, the adoption rates can't rise at the levels we've seen over the last two years much longer. At some point, adoption rates will level off, at least in the US. Once that happens, maybe then we'll see Meeker's wearable device phenomenon take off. One thing we know for sure is businesses are much further behind in mobile adoption, whether from a BYOD policy perspective or from a mobile experience perspective.

Of course, the reasons businesses are behind are complex, and it doesn't seem to be getting any less so. For companies that tailor to a connected audience especially, this mobile mind shift as Forrester calls it, will be especially troublesome. Customers in those lines of business expect much more from a mobile perspective, and they want websites to be faster and more responsive, and apps to be more stylish and productive.

Businesses that are at least mindful of this shift have a better chance to respond, but they may also be under more pressure to keep up. Our advice? Get used to it. Customer's have begun to discover the power they have over companies via their always on devices, and it won't likely get much better in the next couple of years. That's not an admission of defeat, though, more of an admission that we are all in this together.