Consumers around the world are rushing into the embrace of the smartphone market, according to new figures from eMarketer on mobile usage worldwide. By the end of 2014, we expect 1.76 billion people to own and use smartphones monthly, up more than 25% over 2013.
Just under one-quarter of the world's total population will use smartphones this year—and by 2017, more than one-third of all people around the globe will be smartphone users. eMarketer's estimates for smartphone users account for the number of individuals who own and use smartphones, regardless of the number of smartphones each of those individuals might have.
The total figure does not tell the entire story of global smartphone usage, and advanced handsets have already saturated more than half the population in many countries—or will in the next few years.
"By 2015, we project that 15 countries worldwide will have seen more than half their populations adopt smartphones," said Monica Peart, senior forecasting analyst at eMarketer. "The embrace of this technology among the approximately 500 million people in these countries who will be using smart devices by the end of next year will have a significant influence on media usage, ecommerce and marketing."
Mobile phone usage is rising in the Middle East, and the region is expected to account for the second-largest mobile phone population in the world. Despite the fact that Asia-Pacific has the largest mobile phone population today, at more than 2.43 billion, making the region the most populous in the world overall. But the No. 2 region in terms of the number of mobile phone owners is the Middle East and Africa, where 525.8 million people of any age are expected to use a mobile phone at least monthly this year—significantly more than in North America or Western Europe. According to the latest studies in the sector, about 40 percent of smartphone owners in the Middle East and Africa use the smart features in their devices and connect to the Internet to watch videos, download applications and play games online, while the rest do not have connections on their devices.
Consumers in Asia-Pacific will account for more than half of all smartphone users this year, eMarketer estimates, totaling 951.0 million. South Korea is the world leader in terms of smartphone penetration, and these devices were in the hands of more than half its residents as early as 2012. Australia followed closely behind, becoming the only other country in Asia-Pacific to have more than half its population using smartphones in 2013; this year, Japan will reach the 50% tipping point as well. China will not reach majority-smartphone status until 2018; however, its smartphone user base is already the largest in the world by far—totaling 521.7 million this year, eMarketer estimates. Other emerging markets in Asia-Pacific will not reach 50% smartphone penetration during our forecast period.
Western Europe—the region with the second-largest number of smartphone users, with 196.6 million in 2014, eMarketer estimates—saw three Nordic countries reach 50% penetration last year, and this year, the Netherlands and UK will join them. In 2015, a raft of other countries, including the rest of the EU-5, will make the majority smartphone jump.
Like the UK, the US will also reach majority-smartphone penetration among its population this year, a major milestone for two of the most advanced internet markets in the world. The US remains the second-largest smartphone market worldwide, behind China, totaling 163.9 million users in 2014, eMarketer estimates. The US will retain that status until 2016, when India will take over the second spot. Canada will be soon to follow, with smartphone users surpassing 50% of its population in 2015.