Saturday, December 08, 2012

Over One Billion Smartphones

According to Gartner, there are over 1 billion smartphones in the world. This is certainly a very large number of Internet enabled, multi-function phones, and means that in theory, one in six people on the planet uses a smartphone.

However, this is only part of the story. There are 6.3 billion phones subscribed to network operators on our very busy planet. These statistics tell a number of interesting things.

Firstly, it is significant to note that there are over six times as many non-smartphones as there are smartphones. It is also important to look at the demographics of smartphone versus feature phones. For example the so-called first world is, unsurprisingly, the home of most of the Internet enabled multi-purpose phones, and Africa has a much higher penetration of feature phones. In South Africa the ratio is 132%. There are 66.6 million cell phone subscribers compared to an estimated 40 million users which comprises about 80% of the South African population (figures provided by World Wide Work in their report Mobility 2012).

For anyone wanting to market to the mobile connected world, one needs to understand how your potential customer will receive your communications. If a company focusses all their marketing effort to send communications which require an Internet connection, are they ignoring over 80% of their potential market? Are other forms of marketing more appropriate, such as SMS marketing?

It is important to note however that the distinctions between feature phones and smartphones is starting to become quite blurred as many feature phones are getting Wi-Fi and mobile broadband access. There is no doubt that it will not be long before most mobile phone users will have some internet access, with only the cost of connection preventing users from easy access to Internet services.

Secondly, mobile penetration as indicated by the number of phones subscribed versus the population of a region show that in most developed nations, including South Africa, there are more phones connected than there are people living in the country. This means that every single person in these countries have one and a half phones, or, if you exclude babies and children under 10 (and there must be a few adults who do not have phones), then the rest of the population must be walking around with 2 or more phones in their pockets. Why do they need so many phones? The reality is that many phones are connected to other devices, such as 3G modems as well as many people use multiple sim cards to exploit differences between the offerings from the network operators. In Africa obviously there are far fewer phones in circulation, yet the growth of phones has been phenomenal, and far exceeds fixed line connectivity. This is also the region where feature phones have a massive penetration. The mobile phone is the primary form of communication in virtually all developing countries.

The high profile phones like the Apple iPhone have negligible market share in countries like South Africa (around 1%), so companies investing in iPhone apps need to realise that they are targeting a very small niche market. The upside down success of BlackBerry in South Africa versus the rest of the world would reward marketing effort directed towards this phone. Blackberry and Samsung each have about 18% of the SA market, with Nokia way ahead at 50%. According to Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, “Blackberry’s continued strength lies in its appeal to the younger market, with the Curve models maintaining a ‘cool’ image. In the 16-25 age group, the brand has 28% market share.” The message is clear. The market is growing but still relatively simple, and on the whole the operating systems are Android, Symbian and Blackberry. This obviously is not the case for tablets, which is a totally different market.

Statistics often blur the facts. What are the implications for business owners and media marketing agencies with respect to positioning a marketing strategy towards mobile devices? The one fact which needs to seriously considered is the following:

  • Mobile subscriptions outnumber fixed lines 5:1 worldwide and are a far higher percentage in developing countries and South Africa. 
  • Mobile broadband outnumbers fixed broad band 2:1 worldwide and again is higher in South Africa. 
  • Over 40% of mobile users in South Africa use their phone for Internet access 

With figures like these it is obvious why the experts agree that mobile web usage will overtake PC-based web usage. This will happen even more quickly in developing countries, and South Africa, as compared to the rest of the world. A business owner in South Africa who focuses on building a web presence using traditional PC based web developments is facing losing users as consumers move to mobile web. The real challenge is going to be to see how e-commerce manages the transition to mobile, and how will traditional on-line retailing deal with mobile consumers?

Yet again, the Internet is forcing business to re-look at how they do business. One thing is certain; nothing ever remains the same in cyber space. Lex Faure

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