A ZDNet Multiplexer Blog What's this?

Smartphones: NOT As Popular As You Might've Heard...

Smartphone usage is growing super-fast - just not as fast as two dubious statistics I spotted on Twitter this week.

...let me explain. My internal alarm bell sounded Tuesday when I saw a pair of tweets rush by:

"85% of population have smart phones #mobile #shrm10"

"99.7% of students have cell phones #shrm10 #mobile"

Um, really?! Maybe if you took a very specific sample, like: Apple Store employees. Or private high school students in Manhattan.

Those stats might reflect 2010 reality in some alternate 'Mirror' universe where an evil Mr. Spock rocks a goatee - just not the one you and I happen to inhabit.

For instance, Nielsen projects smartphones will overtake featurephones late next year. And Nielsen is only talking about quarterly sales, which obviously changes more quickly than the overall userbase.

I tried to contact the sender of the tweet, as well as the person who apparently uttered them during a session at the ongoing Society for HR Management conference in San Diego. But I wasn't able to get and see a copy of the original presentation.

"85% of Americans have a smartphone today? Fascinating...but illogical..."

So I did a little digging. Let's address each stat one by on:

1) There are 310 million people in the United States. For 85% of U.S. population to own a smartphone, that would mean 263.5 million Americans today use an iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm Pre or a Windows Mobile smartphone.

That's extremely unlikely for two reasons. First, there are only 208 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 64 (for argument's sake, I eliminated kids and seniors. After all, how many pre-teens and grandmas do you know running around with an iPhone 4?)

Also, it's generally acknowledged that featurephones, aka regular cellphones aka dumbphones, remain vastly more popular than smartphones today. For instance, ComScore estimates that the ratio of featurephones:smartphones is about 4:1.

Indeed, ComScore has their own count of smartphone usage today: 48 million Americans. That works out to 15% of the U.S. population, or pretty much the exact opposite of the 85% figure (since 100%-85%=15%).

I did see a tweet later clarifying that the 85% smartphone uptake stat was based on defining a smartphone as any phone "you can type on and visit a website."

The trouble is that goes against pretty much every accepted industry definition of a smartphone today.

2) On the '99.7% of students use a cellphone' stat, that appears to come from a 2009 survey of 300 college students by Ball State University. According to the press release, 99.7% of students have a "mobile communications device."

I couldn't find a link to the survey confirming that 'mobile communications device' was narrowly defined to include only cellphones or smartphones.

That seems key. Because when I hear 'mobile communications device' and college students, I think of them chatting away on their Skype or IM-enabled netbooks and laptops.

Also, this survey only covers college students, who are obviously more likely than students at large to own cellphones.

Mobile usage is growing fast. According to ComScore, smartphone usage in the U.S. has doubled from 10% to 20% in the past year. So there's no need to stoke the flames using questionable quantitative data. It'll only come back to burn you in the end.

Show Comments