Smartphones could take over in US next year

December 8, 2010

Smartphones could take over in US next yearOne analyst is predicting that smartphones will outnumber “featurephone” handsets in the United States by the end of next year. The number suggest that could be something of a stretch, but the trend is certainly there.

The claim comes from Horace Dediu of asymco. His argument is based on the latest market share figures from ComScore, which estimate that 60.7 million of the 234 million mobile users in the US have smartphones, a hair under 26 percent. That’s backed up by a similar estimate by Nielsen that puts the figure at 29.7 percent.

In this context, a smartphone is defined as one that runs a full operating system (as opposed to only being able to run applications in, for example, Java.) It’s possible the true percentage of people using smartphones may be a little higher if you account for people who have both a smartphone and a featurephone, though this shouldn’t make a significant difference.

These figures compare to a smartphone share of about 20 percent a year ago, a number that has declined at a fairly consistent pace, though notably more sharply between July and October. (The numbers suggest that’s largely because of featurephone users upgrading to Android devices.)

Dediu is predicting that, having gone from a little under 20 percent to somewhere between 26 and 29 percent in the space of the 15 months, the smartphone share will go on to double to 50 percent in the same period.

On the face of it, that sounds ludicrous: it would be a huge increase in the pace of the shift to smartphones. However, a close look at the projections suggests that Dediu is expecting two significant changes. While he’s forecasting the user numbers of other smartphone platforms to remain roughly the same, he expects a notable increase in Apple numbers and what looks to be a quadrupling of the Android share.

In analyzing these forecasts it’s important to remember that Dediu is effectively saying Apple and Android will be capturing first-time smartphone buyers rather than stealing share from rivals.

The number of iPhone users will almost certainly increase substantially if (nay, when) the handset comes to Verizon. However, given the high cost of buying and using an iPhone, I’d suspect many of the people waiting for such a move will already be running another brand of smartphone while they wait.

The Android argument is more compelling, though. Google’s system has two advantages that are particularly important when it comes to appealing to people who haven’t got a smartphone yet: it’s free, meaning cheaper handsets are possible; and it’s customizable, making it more practical to target small niches of users and tackle the wide variety of reasons many people haven’t upgraded.

So: Smartphones to take over America in 2011? I suspect not, but that day is certainly not only approaching, but its doing so at a rapidly increasing pace.

(Image credit: asymco.)

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