Global smartphone penetration nearing 10%

Tomi Ahonen has compiled a fascinating data set on 42 major countries’ smartphone penetration rates. The compilation is based on Netsize Guide, Informa, Google and Ipsos data. It is a complex sample with multiple possible sources of error (read the post for the caveats.) However, this is a breakthrough. It’s the first time I’ve seen this level of detail at a country level in the public domain.

I maintain visualizations of ITU data which shows overall mobile consumption and broadband consumption and penetration. In order to maintain a consistent basis of comparison, I prefer to use ITU’s measure of consumption which is “subscriptions” rather than “population”. The ITU derives this measure because mobile operators think of points of connection (subs) rather than people as the measure of consumption. This makes some sense because connections are what are monetized–not people.

So the first piece of analysis is to show this measure of penetration (smartphones as a percent of subscriptions) for the 42 sampled countries.

This view shows which countries “lead” adoption in terms of penetration. It shows that the US is quite high in the ranking and the most penetrated “large” country.

This is highlighted by the following chart which shows penetration of smartphones vs. total subscriptions with bubble size representing population size.

The US stands out from the inverse relationship between size of mobile population and smartphone penetration.

Part of this is due to the US having relatively low mobile penetration in general. It’s below the median because multiple mobile phone use is uncommon.

But these bits of data are not the most interesting. In my opinion the following is:

This last chart shows the total size of non-smart subscriptions vs. the total size of smartphones in use for the 42 countries listed in the legend.

There are 3.7 billion non-smart connections and 0.6 billion smartphones in use. Although not all of these 3.7 billion connections need to be enabled with a smartphone, the fact remains that there are six times as many non-consuming network connections that can still be addressed.

How and when this ocean of non-consumption will be converted to computing devices are the most obvious questions the data raises. Of the selected countries only 13.5% of the connections are “smart”.

ITU data shows that at the end of 2010 there were 5.4 billion global subs. This survey was conducted more recently so the total is likely much higher (perhaps around 6 billion). The survey thus covers about 72% of the world. That implies that at least 90% of the market remains unserved.

  • Anonymous

    Great information, if you add the population number of the last 10 positions is near a 50% of total World population…

  • Anonymous

    Horacle San,

    I would question the figures for Japan, for which Com-Dom says ” ***** Japan and S Korea: These numbers are NOT indicative of how advanced phones are in those countries, while technically are reasonably accurate measures of ‘only smartphones’ “.

    Does this statement mean that many of the “ordinary” phones in Japan and Korea are way more advanced than those elsewhere, so we are not counting them as “smartphones”? 

    The suggestion that “Smartphone Penetration” here in Japan is one-third that of the USA is completely ludicrous. If anything, I would say the converse is more realistic.

    • Smartphones, as currently defined, are still quite rare in Japan. This is a consequence of industrial policy and contrary to the affinity of Japanese consumers for advanced products. What Japan embarked upon with its overall telecom strategy had the unintended consequence of devaluing local software engineering efforts while over-valuing hardware development. Japan’s handset vendors are now not in a position to enjoy benefits from the smartphone boom. Last year Fujitsu and Toshiba were forced to merge handset operations as were NEC, Casio Computer and Hitachi. Sony is now the last independent vendor after acquiring Ericsson’s share of Sony-Ericsson but their share is very small.
      In Japan phones have traditionally been “outsourced” by operators to device makers. The design and platform decisions were made by the operator. This means that decisions about user experience, ecosystems and platform design were made at an operator. Operators have not been very good leaders in this regard for various reasons that I won’t repeat just now. Indeed, their motivations are often contrary to what would make a good mobile computer.

      • Anonymous


        I assume your answer is quoted from somewhere. Any source?

        Either way, I must ask you to explain the term “Smartphones, as currently defined”. I cannot possibly imagine a definition that would allow for the conclusion that they “are still quite rare in Japan”.

        OK, wait, the line “Japan’s handset vendors are now not in a position to enjoy benefits from the smartphone boom”  would seem to exclude handset vendors such as Samsung or Apple from a boom that is actually happening in Japan. Is this story about “smartphone penetration” by users or “smartphone penetration” by manufacturers? Either way, any claim that anything comparable to a smartphone is “quite rare” in Japan is nonsense.

        The rest of your comments are as usual spot-on and are a good explanation of how the massive innovation by phone makers in the Japan market has not benefitted these makers elsewhere.

      • kevin

        Tomi Ahonen writes further down in his post; “But yes, the world has 745 million smartphones in use today in a way we all know smartphones, so excluding Japanese superphones that may have Symbian OS but are not technically open for user-installed apps (and thus are not classified as smartphones) or are not second-hand smartphones that usually are not on data-plans and not used for apps or web browsing etc.”

        In other words, the smartphone definition today includes the requirement for user-installed apps. The Japanese superphones, though, “are not technically open for user-installed apps (and thus are not classified as smartphones)”

        Accordingly, Ahonen has said the original iPhone (2007) with iPhone 1.0 software was not a smartphone, even though it was paradigm changing.

      • Anonymous


        So, the “Caveat” should really say “the 15% shown for smartphone penetration in Japan refers only to iPhones and Android phones that allow easily-installed user-installed apps, and excludes the huge numbers of mobile phones sold with numerous pre-installed apps that are the norm in Japan”.

        Even so, I think Horace should question the source for all this. As I said before, anything that shows the USA ahead of Japan or Korea in “smartphone penetration”, however defined, must be regarded as ridiculous.

      • See:

      • Anonymous

        Horace, Horace,

        ….. the article you link to is not only a very badly-written piece, it is again about “smartphone penetration” by manufacturers, not by users. 

        If you want to talk about “penetration” in Japan, you must include iOS or Android. 

      • Tatil

        The definition is not ridiculous. I have seen a lot more oversized flip phones with about 15 buttons in Japan than the smartphones with large touchscreens and few buttons. People were talking and texting on their flip phones, listening to music and playing games on them, but I do not remember seeing anybody browsing. The advertising posters in cell phone store windows are still divided about 50-50 among these featurephones and smartphones, but I don’t remember any large posters for featurephones in the US for years now. The market in Japan is clearly different. 

      • kevin

        Horace has already linked to Tomi’s blog, where Tomi caveats the provided source data. Is it just that you want Horace to include a similar disclaimer for Japan and Korea?

        Also, I guess the 15% for Japan also includes some Nokia Symbian smartphones, Windows Mobile/Windows Phone smartphones, Samsung bada smartphones, etc.

      • >I assume your answer is quoted from somewhere. Any source?

        No, the answer is not quoted from anywhere.

        Smartphones are defined as phones which have an operating system offering APIs for native applications. They are typically defined as phones running a certain set of mobile operating systems ( I’ve been tracking the market since 2003 and these types of phones were absent in significant volumes from Japan until approximately late 2009.

        Prior to 2010, most Japanese smartphones were running MOAP Symbian (which is actually not strictly a Smartphone see: Once the iPhone launched in Japan, it quickly obtained 70% share with only a few million units shipped. See:

        The penetration of smartphones in Japan has increased significantly since then but my “quite rare” assessment is relative to other advanced markets.

        See also:

        I would add that the consequences of this are so significant for the Japanese policy makers that they coined the term “Galápagos syndrome” or garapagosuka to describe it. See:ápagos_syndrome

      • Anonymous

        I just read the “Caveat” against your Com-Dom source:

        “Japan and South Korea are listed far below their ‘usual’ rankings, but remember, both Japan and South Korea have strong domestic phone maker industries, that use domestic standards and offer very advanced phones, which have not really ‘needed’ to be smartphones, because both countries have very modern ecosystems where content providers get returned typically about 90% out of every dollar out of Japanese mobile internet services and in South Korea between 80% and 85%; compared to only 70% on the iPhone App Store. Standard ‘featurephones’ in Japan and South Korea have far more advanced features as standard than most Western ‘smartphones’ such as NFC, digital TV tuners, up to 16 megapixel cameras, HDMI outputs, and they often are waterproof for shower and bath use. More advanced phones in those markets have features such as in-built pico projectors, ‘glassless’ 3D displays, 3D stereoscopic cameras, WiFi routers, etc. So a measure of smartphone penetration rates per-capita for Japan and South Korea is not indicative of how advanced their domestic phone markets are. Most industry analysts rate both Japan and South Korea phone markets ahead of those in Singapore, Hong Kong and Sweden.”

        So does this verbiage mean that “very advanced phones” in Japan and Korea are not “smartphones” because of the “very modern ecosystems”?

        In any case using these figures is tautological. On one hand “a measure of smartphone penetration rates per-capita for Japan and South Korea is not indicative of how advanced their domestic phone markets are” while on the other “most industry analysts rate both Japan and South Korea phone markets ahead of those in Singapore, Hong Kong and Sweden.”

        So the figures you have based you chart on are in some way adjusted to prevent them showing the reality and instead show Japan and Korea way down the list when even the casual observer should notice they are near the top.

        I think some re-evaluation of your reliance on this source is required.

      • These figures do not measure how “advanced” a market is. They measure smartphone penetration. 

      • Anonymous

        Excuse me?

        “These figures”, as quoted by Dom-Com, measure what they assess as “smartphone penetration”. 

        Dom-Com explain that they have actually adjusted their figures about  “smartphone penetration” because they believe that the market in Japan or Korea is more “advanced”. 

        In other words, the figures have been discounted because we already know that Japan or Korea have what we all know are, shall we call them less smart, more featured, more penetrating phones. In an advanced market. 

        But because the market is more advanced, the penetration is less?

        I repeat, any suggestion that that “Smartphone Penetration” here in Japan is one-third that of the USA is completely ludicrous. 

        I may of course be wrong. 

        I look forward to seeing your article entitled “Smartphone Penetration in USA is three times that of Japan”. 

      • You can just search for “smartphone penetration Japan” and get alternative answers:
        The problem has been getting a complete global picture which is what leads to understanding of the “room to grow” opportunity for smartphone platforms.
        Regarding advanced mobile use, there is much more data on 3G and mobile internet use here:

      • Anonymous

        It doesn’t matter if a Japanese feature phone comes with a particle accelerator and a sentient android companion, if the user can’t install new third party applications, it’s not a smartphone. The extensibility of utility through custom software installation is the defining characteristic of a smartphone.

        Nobody is suggesting that Japan is a developing country when it comes to cell phones, but highly advanced feature phones still don’t have the same market attributes as a smartphone platform. Counting them as smartphones would be more misleading than counting them amongst less sophisticated feature phones.

      • Anonymous

        This sounds similar to what developed in France in the 90’s. I believe the device was called Minitel and it was subsidized by the French government. It was something like a centralized BBS and provided significant useful services. It used analog TV screens and modems over phone lines. When the Internet started to ignite in the US and elsewhere it lagged in France and other Minitel markets because it had entrenched, developed competition.

        It was a fairly clear case of industrial policy trying and failing to make the “right” choice. This may be similar to the story in wireless tech in Japan today?

  • Alan

     It will be interesting to see this play out over time. I believe that connected devices different from the smartphone (and tablet) might be long term drivers of subscriptions. When your appliances, hvac, car, and home entertainment are all subscribed the ratio could easily be 4 to 1.

  • Anonymous

    One more thing:

    Soft drink vending machines here in Japan have mobile phone connections to let Coca Cola etc. know when they need re-stocking with cans of drinks, even if they are half way up a mountain. Are these “Smart phones”, “feature phones” or “Superphones”? 

    Are they included in the 15% or not?

    • Anonymous

      None of the above, I’d wager. Kindles generally aren’t counted as a cell subscription either. Nobody calls an associate or texts a spouse on those devices and you can be sure that the contract for such cellular data devices is very different from a typical cell contract. 

      It’s a novel use of phone-related technology, but it has no reason to be counted as part of the phone market just as an airplane shouldn’t be counted in the auto market just because it has seats, wheels and a combustion engine.

    • Smartphones are not defined by their features but by the operating system they run. I can explain it another way: when the current generation of game consoles was released they featured computing power beyond all but the most powerful of PCs. They could do many things PCs could do and much more in terms of game play. That does not mean that a game console should be classified as a computer. The concept of a personal computer has much to do with it’s multi-purpose nature and its openness to third party application installation.

      • Davel

        While I agree that by a consumers definition of computer you are correct, game consoles are in fact computers. All smartphones are computers in the same way as I believe you have pointed out here and I certainly have.

      • Relayman5C

        I had a Motorola RAZR V3m (CDMA for Verizon) before the original iPhone came out that had many features that smartphones today have. For example, I could download applications developed for BREW, specifically Time Card which allowed me to keep track of my time. I could also download songs and custom-written ringtones. But I’m reluctant to call it a smartphone because it was missing a touch screen and its capabilities were dictated by Verizon. Even though the BREW environment was there, Verizon tightly controlled the applications. If there were more than 10 apps for the phone, I would be surprised.

        My point? Many of the definitions of smartphone in these messages would include the original RAZR (introduced in 2004). Since you’re not counting it as a smartphone, the definition of smartphone must exclude it. A simple way is to require a touchscreen. Before the iPhone came out, few phones had touchscreens.

    • Noah Berlove

      One of Tomi Ahonen sources was end user surveys conducted by Google, Ipsos & MMA (  Here is what they say: “The definition of a smartphone user is based on multiple variables,
      which came into play in the research. The key elements are private
      smartphone usage, operating system, large display, touchscreen and the
      self categorisation as smartphone user.”  That certainly excludes the vending machines and many other connected devices.

      Ahonen also used data from Netsize, which uses data from Informa.  Their numbers come from the carriers and is bases on subscriptions and services.  Again, these most likely exclude machine-to-machine usage (e.g. vending machines and in vehicle live GPS tracking systems).

      Based on this, as Ahonen acknowledges, the numbers also exclude smartphones that are not used as smartphones (e.g. WiFi only connection or voice & text usage only).

      I think, and I hope someone can say for sure or correct me, research companies like Gartner us the installed OS to make the distinction.

  • Pingback: Tuesday links: low expectations | Abnormal Returns()

  • Pingback: Cerca de 10% dos usuários de celular têm smartphone, diz estudo | Hospedagem de sites Auranet – Juazeiro do Norte – Ceará()

  • Pingback: 10% din utilizatorii de telefoane mobile au un smartphone - studiu()

  • Tomi T Ahonen

    Hi Horace and all readers of Asymco blog

    I just wanted to stop by and thank you Horace for excellent visual presentation of the data I had on the blog – I have to send my Twitter followers here to see it, your graphical illustration is far more visually telling – and also obviously I love your further analysis across several other data sources, especially I love the matrix graph.To those in this thread who had the Japan yes/no argument, haha, I think you mostly exhausted the point but yes, I agree. Like I wrote on the blog, Japanese (and S Korean) featurephones are more advanced than what we in most other countries consider top smartphones – but technically they are not smartphones, the user cannot install their own apps, even where for example NTT DoCoMo’s most superphones tended to use the Symbian OS so even the industry analysts would count those Symbian phones in the quarterly sales numbers. But like someone pointed out, that does not make them smartphones and the users cannot install their own apps. I also pointed out that the Japanese (and S Korean) services ecosystem is far more mature and advanced and has far more developers and brands than the app stores, and the Japanese system returns far more money to their owners. But that is based on HTML web based services (coupled with carrier billing) which also makes more sense in most cases, than building apps.I would lastly point out as a side note, that the person who talked about Japanese phone use – remember, Japanese websites are by default formated for the small screen. They were the first advanced industrialized country to report that the majority of web users came from mobile phones – five years ago – and have also two years ago reached the second milestone, where most of the time spent online now comes from mobile phones as well. The last milestone (most traffic load) is yet to be seen, but I am confident that it too, will be first seen in Japan, and soon.Thank you Horace for this excellent article! (and very good discussion in the comments)Tomi T Ahonen   :-)Communities Dominate blog

  • Pingback: Sverige tre på smartphonetoppen | iPortal()

  • Pingback: Sverige trea på smartphonetoppen | iPortal()

  • Pingback: Global smartphone penetration approaches 10% | EMKWAN - GEEK LIFESTYLE REVIEWS AND VIEWS - EMKWAN PROJECT™()

  • David F

    I just returned from Singapore.  Did extensive travel by mass transit (subway, bus).  These people LOVE their iPhones.  Lots of smart phones in general use, 80% of which, I estimate were iPhones.  Hard to believe, but it was very obvious.  Once noted six consecutive people standing shoulder to shoulder down the center of a crowded train – all head down into an iPhone.  Some 3GSs, most were 4 or 4Ss.

  • Wow Horace, so Canada is small? You are aware that it’s actually larger than US – are you?

    • Of course I am aware of the landmass of Canada. By large I mean population which is what is measured on the chart by the bubble area.

    • Anonymous

      Canadian here with some shocking news: Land doesn’t buy phones.

      Geez. Why does this post seem to threaten the national identity of so many?

      Much more interesting than our vast tracts of uninhabited tundra is the fact that our smartphone penetration is so huge while our data contracts are so expensive. Makes me wonder if our dumb phone penetration was lagging.

      • Drericl

        Just wait a couple of decades and that tundra will be temperate beach front property.

  • JohnB

    Wondering why little ol New Zealand is near the top and realise it may be due to carrier practices with Sim cards.  I understand it is common practice to replace phones frequently in many places and the number & Sim card often changes with the phone.  In NZ, the Sim card is disconnected when a new one is issued or it is not used for a few months.  That may make the denominator different if koreans keep old phones in a drawer or dump them with SIM card and they stay registered

  • Anonymous

    Hello Horace,

    I think you made a mistake on your first diagram. The ranking showed there isn’t the penetration rate per capita but the migration rate that Tomi showed ( IE the fourth column and not the fifth)

    • See second and third paragraphs in post.

      • Anonymous

        Sorry, misread that….

  • Pingback: Aktuelles 14. Dezember 2011()

  • Anonymous

    HoraceOne of the joys of reading your website is the fact that you seek out reliable data and use them to reach informed and rational conclusions. In contrast, much of the internet is polluted by PR-driven fluff and the shallow opinions of fans, of whatever cause, driven by their own agenda.So I was rather surprised, when I found and commented on what appeared to be an anomaly in your data, to be directed to unreliable and unverified opinionpieces and be subjected to more shallow and negative opinions rather than any attempt to verify my point.The fact is, you point to a single source for your data. The author of thatsource admits, for reasons which are not convincingly explained, that datafor Japan and South Korea has been manipulated. The result is that the dataappears to show something completely at odds with the observable reality, atleast as far as Japan is concerned. I cannot speak for Korea but I believethe situation there is similar.Your article concerns “smartphone penetration”. To understand this subject,we need a definition of smartphone that allows us to reasonably judge theextent of that penetration. The Dom-Com source does not provide that.Until the iPhone was announced, a smartphone could easily be defined as one with a QWERTY keyboard. Note in passing that that is the writing system and input method for the English language, not so readily applicable in Asia.However, I think many would agree that, five years ago, a Blackberry wasconsidered a smartphone. At that time, it would be fair to say that it was considerably “smarter” than most phones then in use in the USA and Europe. When NTT DoCoMo introduced the Blackberry in Japan, it was not very successful. This was partly because it was expensive and its support for the local language and writing system was limited, but mainly because it was not significantly “smarter” than many mobile phones on sale here at the time, say in terms of internet access or diversity of available apps.The reason for analyzing “smartphone penetration” must be to understand the converse, which is the “opportunity”. Looking at the USA, a 40% smartphone penetration represents an opportunity to sell smartphones to 60% of current phone users, because the smartphones are clearly superior to the phones (dumb or feature phones) those users currently own. Any data that suggests that there is an opportunity for manufacturers or carriers to sell new smartphones to 85% of current phone users in Japan, because those smartphones are superior in functionality or capability to the phones they currently own, is deluded. Your model needs to be adjusted to fit the observable reality. Until it does, it is not usable.

    Sorry to sound negative. I love your site and especially the new logo. Cheers, Andrew

    • You raise very good points. I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but it’s been a long decade of watching this market and one gets a bit tired of repeating some concepts.
      You point out the crux of the matter: does Japan offer an 85% unpenetrated market for smartphones? You content that it does not, but I would say that it does. The difference in opinion is in the view of the _jobs that phones are hired to do_. Smartphones are and will be used for different jobs than feature phones, no matter how advanced they are. The ability to install apps by the thousands, the ability to use over the top (OTT) services on the phones by the hundreds and the ability to update the phone frequently over its lifetime are abilities only smartphones offer. Users may not ask for these features but I believe that they will. In fact I believe they all will, no matter where they live, how much money they have or how old they are.
      Note that these smartphones may not be “superior” to what they currently have. Smartphones compete on a different basis than feature phones. This difference is in fact why companies that avoided building them are suffering. This difference is why companies that did not build them chose not to build them. They are asymmetric. They are perverse.

      • Anonymous

        Pardon my ignorance, but do feature phones have a robust operating system? And is the OS touchscreen and/or voice driven?

      • Feature phones can have very “robust” operating systems. Some of the most robust operating systems are embedded OSs which control very critical systems. What makes smartphones interesting is neither robustness nor feature richness. It’s that they are platforms upon which others (meaning third parties) can create innovations.

      • Anonymous

        Since we still do not have a working definition of “smartphone” for the purpose of our present discussion, are you proposing that “the ability to install apps by the thousands, the ability to use over the top (OTT) services on the phones by the hundreds and the ability to update the phone frequently over its lifetime” should be such a definition? 

        I am sure you must be exhausted by your decade of watching the mobile phone market, so I am sorry to burden you further with this discussion. My first mobile phone was a Nokia. This was in the last century. I had internet access, downloadable apps and services. Technically I should have been able to “update the phone frequently over its lifetime”. In practice, not so much.

        Nokia abandoned the Japan market. In my experience, every corporation that has abandoned Japan has gone on to fail (Palm, for example). Anyway, I used that Nokia mobile for over five years (I still have it) and replaced it with a 3G FOMA phone, followed by a re-branded RAZR, until my current iPhone.

        Look, we all know that the Japan market is different from the US or Europe. Nokia didn’t understand it, Palm didn’t understand it, Google doesn’t quite understand it with Android, Apple does understand the Japan market, and has been doing very well here. So why don’t the rest of you guys just leave us alone? 

        All you have to do, before you publish any more graphs or tables, is take out the bits that show Japan, until and unless you can show that you or Tomi Ahonen  are basing this on any real data. 

      • A smartphone is defined technically as running an OS that can accommodate user-installable software (natively). That’s a dry and abstract definition. A more nuanced interpretation is that the products are platforms which allow others (not the vendor or operator) to extend the functionality in profound ways. 

        The idea of a platform is that innovation is not bounded by the imagination of its creator. Innovation and hence value creation becomes extensible. It means that the economic model becomes one of symbiotic ecosystems of co-dependency.

    • “Until the iPhone was announced, a smartphone could easily be defined as one with a QWERTY keyboard.”

      I do not agree with that assessment.  I had a Nokia (6800 series I think) that was every bit a “feature” or messaging phone that had a QWERTY keyboard.  It was, in no way, a smart phone.

  • Tom Wehmeier

    For those challenging the 15% penetration number, I think it will be informative to look at what the Japanese carriers themselves have to say about smartphone penetration in their market. As you will see on Slide 14 of this link ( to a strategy presentation from market-leader NTT DoCoMo, DoCoMo claimed to have just 2.4m smartphone subscriptions at end-2010, equivalent to around 4.2% penetration of its total subscription base at that time. They forecast this to reach 10m at end-2011 equating to about 16% penetration of its ~60m customers. The presentation itself gives you a strong indication that DoCoMo share the same view on what constitutes a smartphone as Horace and most analyst houses. 

  • Pingback: Global Smartphone Penetration Almost 10 Percent()

  • Pingback: สมาร์ทโฟนมีส่วนแบ่งเกิน 10% ของโทรศัพท์มือถืà()

  • Michael Andersen

    I believe that the iPhone and Android have caused the understanding of the term smart phone to change a bit. Nowadays, a smart phone generally seems to be a phone that can a) support a web browsing experience and b) supports Apps.

  • Pingback: Zwykłe telefony wciąż ważne dla Nokii « Spider's Web()