Smartphones have become a part of our daily existence. For most of us, we don't do anything in life without them, and we feel disconnected or out of touch when we go long periods without using our phones.
A big reason for this is simply how convenient these devices are. Sometimes we forget, but you can access nearly all the information in the world - and communicate with pretty much anyone - all by reaching into your pocket and grabbing a device that is no more than a few square inches big.
But just how big is this trend of increased smartphone usage? Is it happening all around the world, or more in some countries than others? Is how we use our phones changing? Or are we just doing more of the same things but more often?
We've answered all of these questions and more, so keep reading if you want to know everything there is to know about smartphone usage worldwide.
Smartphone Usage Around the World
Smartphones are some of the most popular electronic devices currently in use around the world. To highlight this, consider these stats:
1. There Are 3.5 Billion Smartphone Users Around the World
Considering there are currently around 7 billion people on the planet, half of the population (including children) has a smartphone. That is pretty remarkable when you think about it; these devices were only just beginning to appear in most markets just 10-15 years ago. As you can see in the graph below, things are growing, which means we can expect more and more of the world's population to be using a smartphone in the coming years.
2. Median Smartphone Ownership is 76 percent in rich countries and just 45 percent in Poor Countries.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the wealth of a given nation plays a considerable role in how many people in that nation own a smartphone. Here's a summary of what things look like in a collection of rich and developing countries:
As you can see, the percentage of the population with a smartphone is much higher in the world's wealthier nations and much, much lower in the poorer countries. Yet even within these groups, there is a disparity when it comes to wealth. Greece's economy has been struggling since the 2008 crisis, and incomes there are much lower than in the rest of Europe, which might explain why just 59 percent of the population has a smartphone. India's numbers reflect the country's massive rural population, which tends to be poorer and have less access to these kinds of technology.
In all counties, the difference between older and younger groups is quite different, as we would expect. Still, the gap is even wider in poorer countries, often referred to as emerging markets. For example, in Australia, 97 percent of young people have a smartphone compared to just 68 percent of older people. In Italy, it's 98 percent and 48 percent (this last number is lower than in most places.) In the UK, 93 percent of the young population has a smartphone, and 60 percent of the elderly do.
In other countries, things are much different. Brazil is a great example - 85 percent of the younger population has a smartphone compared to just 32 percent of the older group. A similar story is unfolding in the Philippines, where 74 percent of young people have smartphones, and only 27 percent of older generations do.
This makes a lot of sense. In these nations, new economic opportunities that lead to higher incomes tend to be more available to the younger generations who are more aptly trained for today's work environment. Furthermore, younger people in these countries are more likely to have been exposed to social media and other apps that drive smartphone use. If things continue, we can expect developing nations worldwide to soon catch up with the more affluent countries regarding smartphone ownership.
3. 97.5 percent of Chinese Citizens Access the Internet Through Their Smartphones
In China, very few people still rely on desktop computers to use the internet, choosing instead to use a smartphone. This is a very interesting trend that might give us an idea of what to expect in the coming years.
China is still a rapidly growing economy (although its pace has slowed down a bit in the past decade or so), which means that more and more people are entering the middle class, and earning incomes that allow them to pay for smartphones. When this happens, and they choose to go from no internet to using either a desktop or a smartphone, most people seem to be choosing a smartphone, likely because of its size, convenience, and functionality.
As the world's less-economically-advanced nations continue to grow, we will likely see this trend repeated, which will only increase our dependence on these devices and make them even more prominent in our lives.
4. 50.3 percent of Global Internet Traffic Takes Place on a Smartphone
This number has grown considerably over the last decade. To give you an idea, mobile's share of global internet traffic in 2013 was just 16.2 percent, meaning it has more than quadrupled in the past seven years. There are many reasons for this, mainly the increased availability of smartphones and improvements to the mobile networks we use them on. But recently, things have been leveling off if not decreasing a bit - in 2018, mobile's share was 52.2 percent, and in 2019 it was 53.3. However, expect this slowdown to reverse as 5G networks and devices hit markets in the coming years, and we begin to depend even more on these devices than we already do.
5. There are Currently More than 10 Billion Mobile Devices In Use Around the World
Yes, that works out to more than one per person. At first, this might seem strange but think about how many people you know who have a mobile phone for both work and personal use. And if we consider that this stat also includes tablets, it's easy to see how we can get to a point where each person in the world - on average - owns 1.42 mobile devices.
Of course, there are going to be huge discrepancies here related to incomes. People living in more prosperous countries are much more likely to have multiple devices than those living in poorer countries. But on average, each person in the world - adult and children - owns one and a half mobile devices, which is an incredible number.
6. South Korea Has the Highest Percentage of Smart Phone Users
Given South Korea's reputation as a hub for technology and electronics, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. But when we look closer at the numbers, one thing stands out - all South Koreans own a phone of some type. Ninety-four percent own a smartphone, which is a higher percentage than any other country. Perhaps more interestingly, six percent own a non-smartphone mobile device, which works out to an even 100 percent. This is the only country in the world that can make this claim.
7. Smartphone Usage in the United States
The Pew Research Center, one of the most prominent research institutions in the United States, conducted a thorough study on smartphone usage in the United States. Below we've taken out some of the more interesting trends and conclusions from this study to help you get a better picture of what's happening here in the United States as it refers to smartphones.
8. 81 Percent of Americans Own a Smartphone
In 2020, more than three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, but such widespread adoption is a relatively recent trend. If we go back to 2011, less than a decade ago, just 35 percent of Americans owned one of these devices. This fast growth makes sense, though, for there are now far more smartphone options available, at many different price points, and improved network infrastructure allows these devices to work nearly everywhere. Plus, with so many essential apps out there, owning a smartphone has become a near necessity.
9. Older People Are The Ones Still Not Using Smartphones
This might not come as much of a surprise, but the reason the number listed above isn't higher is that America's older generation hasn't bought into the smartphone revolution quite as much as its younger ones have. Here is a breakdown of smartphone usage by age bracket:
- 18-29 - 96 percent
- 30-49 - 92 percent
- 50-64 - 79 percent
- 65+ - 53 percent
As you can see, though, it's just the oldest group - the baby boomers - that have resisted this trend, but even within this group, the majority still have a smartphone. A few years ago, this would have been nearly unthinkable. We may never reach 100 percent adoption, but we can expect that more and more of the older segments of the population will be using smartphones as we move forward.
10. Smartphone Usage is Not Affected by Race
According to Pew, 82 percent of Whites, 80 percent of Blacks, and 79 percent of Hispanics have smartphones, suggesting that race does not play much of a role in determining whether someone has a smartphone.
11. Education and Income Do Affect Smartphone Usage
However, while race isn't a factor, education and income levels certainly are. Interestingly, education seems to be a much better indicator. Only 66 percent of those with less than a high school degree have a smartphone, whereas 91 percent of college graduates do have one. Seventy-two percent of high school graduates have one, and 85 percent of those with some college education also have one.
Such a trend makes a lot of sense when we think about it; those with less than a high school degree will have fewer economic opportunities available to them to be able to afford a smartphone. However, those with college educations are far more likely to have jobs and be involved in social circles where a smartphone is almost necessary. There are many other factors at play, too.
Interestingly, though, income levels don't seem to have quite as dramatic of an effect. Here's what this picture looks like:
These numbers seem to indicate that the more money you make, the more likely you are to have a smartphone, which makes sense. Part of the reason this doesn't look so dramatic compared to the influence of education level is that all people making less than $30,000 are grouped into one category. Someone making $28,000 living on their own can likely afford a phone, especially if they pay for it over time. Yet someone making $25,000 with a child to take care of most certainly cannot.
Appreciating the variations that exist among this group helps to get to a better understanding of what these numbers mean, and that is that income, partly through education, is the most significant barrier to getting a smartphone in the United States.
12. What Do We Use Our Smartphones For?
Most of the numbers we have presented thus far speak to how many smartphones and smartphone users there are globally, and the primary conclusion that we can draw is that there are A LOT. However, if you want to go a bit further and understand what exactly everyone is using these smartphones for, then check out these stats:
13. 90 percent of Our Smartphone Time is Spent on Apps
Due to their convenience and ease of use, most of us show a considerable preference for accessing the internet on our phones using an app. This makes sense these programs were designed specifically for the site you're using. Also, more and more apps are coming out each year, which means that there are always new opportunities to access the web on our phones using these handy pieces of software.
14. 58 percent of Searches Take Place on Mobile Devices
One of our smartphones' primary uses is looking up information, as shown by the percentage of searches that come from mobile devices. This is another area where convenience makes all the difference. A question pops into our head, a friend suggests we meet at a restaurant we've never been to before, we hear someone talking about a news story we haven't seen yet, and the first thing we do is reach into our pockets and search for it (usually on Google) to see what's going on. This behavior has become so second nature that sometimes we do it without even realizing it. Ever catch yourself reaching for your phone without even really being aware you're doing so?
15. 79 percent of Smartphone Users Have Made a Purchase On Their Mobile Device in the Past 6 Months
This number points to one of the more significant smartphone usage trends - the turn towards using them to shop. Online shopping - also known as eCommerce - has been growing considerably over the years. As this has happened, more and more people are turning to their phones to look up products, read reviews, and, ultimately, make a purchase. Currently, mobile eCommerce sales amount to 3.56 billion, up from under $1 billion back in 2016.
However, one thing to point out is that while more and more people are using their phones to shop, people still seem to prefer using other devices to make the final purchase. Mobile conversion rates (the percentage of mobile shoppers who actually make a purchase) are just 1.53 percent in the US compared to 4.14 percent on desktops. But with more and more apps coming out and smartphone use continuing to grow, we may see these numbers start to change.
Either way, it's safe to say that we rely more and more on our phones for shopping around and buying the things we need and want.
16. 80 percent of Shoppers Use Their Smartphones While In a Store
Surely you've done this many times before. You're walking through a store and find something you like, but you're not too sure it's what you want, or if the price it's listed at is the best one. So, you whip out your phone and start searching right then and there. If this is something you've done before, know that you're far from alone. More than three-quarters of us do this.
The ramifications for this are that it makes sure brick-and-mortar store owners are on their toes. If they are listing a product at a dramatically higher price than what's available online, sales will suffer.
This can also harm traditional businesses. Many entrepreneurs with these types of shops will tell you that it's difficult for them to compete with prices online. There are advantages to buying in-store, mainly the help and personal assistance you can get when working directly with someone.
Either way, though, the trend does seem to be moving online, and it will be interesting to see how more traditional businesses react.
17. Americans Consume 203 Minutes of Media on Their Smartphones Each Day
In case you were wondering, 203 minutes translates to 3 hours and 23 minutes. If we extrapolate this over the year, it means that we spend around 1,200 hours on our smartphones in a given year - that's more than 50 days. This sounds dramatic - and is - but if we think about all the time we spend scrolling through social media, watching videos, responding to texts, video chatting, and reading articles, it's easy to see how we can get to this number rather quickly. Are 203 minutes per day too much? Who knows?
18. We Read Half of Our Emails on Mobile Devices
Although we now have many more ways of communicating, email is still an important way for us to talk. We seem to use our mobile devices for checking emails more so than any other device. And, once again, this makes sense. What better time to check our email than while sitting on a train, waiting in line for coffee, or lounging around the house? 61.9 percent of email opens occur on a mobile device.
The Potential Dangers of Too Much Smartphone Usage
Hopefully, after seeing the numbers we've presented here, you now have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the world today with smartphones and can see that the trend is one of increasing smartphone usage.
In general, this is probably a good thing; smartphones allow us to do so much. However, this transition has taken place so quickly it has left many of us adopting new ways of living and interacting with the world in a really short period of time. And whenever this happens, we should at least be aware of the potential risks. Here are a few to consider:
Continuing Into the Smartphone Era
All of these numbers show that we are very much in the smartphone era. Desktop computers are falling out of favor worldwide, especially in countries that are less economically developed and are just now starting to access the internet in large numbers.
Moving forward, we can expect this trend to continue. Smartphones are getting cheaper, and networks are getting better (5G is essentially here), and so it's quite likely that smartphone use will increase unless, of course, a new technology emerges that takes its place.
Until then, it looks as though our smartphones will continue to be our best friends.