comScore: 29 Million Smartphones in US

Measurement firm comScore says that there are 29 million smartphone owners and more than 1,000 mobile devices (obviously extending beyond smartphones) being used to “access mobile media” in the US market. The company also contends there are 233 million mobile subscribers in the US. CTIA says the number is 270 million.

Using comScore’s 233 million mobile subscriber “base” and the figure of 29 million smartphone owners arrives at a penetration rate of roughly 12.5%. Our data suggest a 15% penetration level. Others in the market put the smartphone percentage even higher.

The reason the smartphone number is important is that smartphone adoption is directly correlated with mobile Internet engagement (leading indicator) and, over time, mobile ad revenues. The comScore data affirm this; smartphone users are:

  • 3x as likely to mobile browse mobile Web
  • 3x as likely to use a mobile app
  • 2x as likely to send photos or videos

The company also said that 59.5% of US mobile users have sent or received SMS messages (see our SMS marketing report here) and 25.3% have received an SMS ad.

Separately, comScore identifies the top mobile applications categories:

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Source: comScore (May, 2009)

There are “three worlds” in mobile: apps, mobile Web and SMS. In the case of smartphone owners, they will use all three to varying degrees. However non-smartphone owners are generally not going to be very engaged in the “mobile Internet” because of data plan cost (and corresponding inhibitions) and generally poor user experience.

What’s interesting to contemplate is an emerging category of phones that exists between low-end feature phones and the iPhone and its bretheren. This category is represented by INQ’s “social mobiles,” phones offering built-in apps that provide a better experience on Facebook, Skype, Twitter: 

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According to the release:

The new phones offer high-spec functionality without the hefty price tag – shaking up the market by giving operators a unique proposition – a 3G social mobile with the speed, usability and suite of applications capable of driving data usage in the mass market.

The INQ Chat 3G is the company’s first qwerty-style phone, while the compact INQ Mini 3G expands the range and provides an entry-level social mobile ideal for the price-sensitive prepay market. They complement the award-winning INQ1.

For the two new phones, Twitter joins the suite of communications applications that INQ has already woven into the heart of its social mobiles: which include Facebook, Skype and Instant Messaging.

These are inexpensive phones that offer a high-end app experience around certain functions or sites. This doesn’t provide an iPhone-like mobile Internet experience, nor is there an app store, just a few high use case apps specifically tailored to the phone. I suspect we’ll see more of this sort of device, not a true “smartphone” but more full featured and high functioning than today’s lower end phones — especially to appeal to the price sensitive youth market.