News for Digital Journalists

September 02, 2011

Smartphones probably not a majority for about a year

Smartphones are gradually taking over the U.S. mobile market—just not nearly as quickly as many news organizations and other digital publishers anticipated. Recent statistics indicate that smartphones probably won’t comprise the majority of the U.S. mobile market until approximately Q3 2012. Meanwhile, feature phone web browser options have improved substantially.

These are strong reasons to make sure that your mobile web site is robust and lean, since that’s still how you can reach the largest possible mobile audience…

According to comScore, as of July smartphones comprised only 35% of the U.S. mobile market. They’ve been showing a fairly steady gain of 1% per month for the last year, which means that it by Sept. or October of 2012 smartphones may finally comprise 50% of the U.S. mobile market.

Projection based on comScore data. Chart courtesy

In March 2010 Nielsen Company predicted that smartphones would take over the U.S. market right about now. This prediction was widely circulated in digital media circles, and it’s still being used in presentations and strategy documents. But this week Nielsen estimated the current smartphone market share at 40%—in a post that omitted any mention of their earlier prediction.

The future pace of U.S. smartphone market penetration could vary substantially according to how the general economy fares. In addition to costing much more up front, in the U.S. smartphones are sold mainly with pricey two-year carrier contracts that include hefty early termination fees. This makes them a substantial and challenging financial commitment for people who are either out of work or concerned about their job or income security.

Simpler, cheaper feature phones remain popular probably because they’re more affordable and flexible. They can generally be purchased for $50 or less (even free), and no-contract or prepaid options are fairly easy to find from discount carriers.

Also, feature phone web browser options have improved considerably. According to NetMarketshare, over the last year Opera Mini has kept up as the second most popular mobile browser behind Safari, even surpassing Android. Opera Mini offers a much faster, easier, and prettier mobile browsing experience compared to the typical feature phone web browser of a couple of years ago. It’s now coming preinstalled on many U.S. feature phones—and most feature phone owners can download and install it for free, even if it doesn’t come bundled with their phone.

As more feature phone owners get better browsers, chances are they’ll use the mobile web more. So test your mobile site to make sure it “plays nice” with Opera Mini and other better browsers that run on feature phones. Make sure your online production team has a feature phone equipped with Opera Mini for testing, or use the Opera Mini simulator.

Note that Opera Mini is a “proxy browser” which pre-renders web pages before downloading them as images to the phone, to keep data usage low. This can break more advanced interactive or navigation features, so make sure your mobile site works well enough with simple navigation.

Offering a good-enough mobile web experience for users with low-end handsets or slow data connections doesn’t have to consume much of your time or budget. However, having this baseline can help you build awareness and loyalty among a vast and mostly underserved potential news audience. If you’re at least moderately considerate of their needs now, then when they eventually get smartphones they’ll probably remember your news brand.


Mini Opera and smartphones = super machine smile stal

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