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Getting to Know the Mobile Population

Sophisticated—and diverse

August 25, 2009 | Mobile

Mobile users are inseparable from their devices. Whether they have a smartphone or a traditional feature phone, it goes with them at all times. And as these devices become more capable, they are evolving into extensions of users’ desktops and home communications and entertainment systems.

Penetration will near 100% by 2013, reflected in a modest 2.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the number of subscribers between 2008 and 2013.

US Mobile Phone Subscribers and Penetration, 2008-2013 (millions and % of population)

“With mobile usage now pervasive, eMarketer believes that mobile will develop into a ubiquitous platform for messaging, social networking, entertainment and Web access,” said Noah Elkin, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, “Mobile Users and Usage: It’s Personal.”

The mobile subscriber population is hardly uniform—in either its demographic composition or usage habits. For example, women enjoy a slight lead over men in the overall composition of the mobile subscriber population. According to comScore data, the split is 53% women, 47% men. However, men are better represented in the key 18 to 44 age range. Variations in usage by age, income, ethnicity and device type also exist, with each subsegment representing its share of opportunities as well as a unique set of potential challenges.

Usage continues to center around various forms of communication, and text messaging has superseded voice calling as the pre-eminent means of communication on mobile devices. Figures from Nielsen show that in Q1 2009, the average US mobile subscriber sent or received 486 text messages per month but made just 182 calls.

As might be expected, heavy texting is not uniform across all mobile users. Nielsen data shows that users ages 13 to 24 text disproportionately more than those in other age groups. In fact, in Q1 2009, 13-to-17-year-olds sent and received more than three times as many texts on a monthly basis as the next-most-avid group of texters, those ages 18 to 24, and over 50 times as many as the least active texters, those ages 55 to 64. That said, it is noteworthy that no age group is immune to the draw of text messaging.

Average Text Messages Sent/Received per Month per US Mobile Phone Subscriber, by Age, Q4 2008 & Q1 2009

Mobile Internet usage has been steadily rising, with some of the traditional barriers—namely cost, complexity and user experience—beginning to fall away. eMarketer predicts that growth will persist over the next five years, albeit at a slower pace. In the US, the number of mobile users accessing the Internet will jump from 73.7 million in 2009 to 134.3 million in 2013, a CAGR of 17.7%.

US Mobile Internet Users and Penetration, 2008-2013 (millions and % of mobile phone subscribers)

The mobile Internet user population in the US is now roughly one-third the size of the wired Internet audience, a gap that will narrow by the early part of the next decade. Smartphones constitute the bridge between the desktop and mobile Web.

“Growing sophistication in users, devices and usage patterns will mean increased opportunities for marketers to connect with consumers, particularly among the growing population of smartphone users,” said Mr. Elkin. “Yet marketers must take seriously the highly personal relationship users have with their mobile devices, and respect the need for a value exchange.”

Further, despite the spotlight on smartphones, they remain a minority share of the mobile device market. Smartphone users are a far more attractive group, both for the audience demographics and usage patterns, but marketers that ignore the other 80% to 85% of the user population do so to their detriment.

Get the full picture of the mobile population. Download the new eMarketer report, “Mobile Users and Usage: It’s Personal,” now.

Check out today’s other article, “Display Ad Success Beyond the Click.”



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