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Most Smartphone Owners Use Location-Based Services

However, there’s still significant room for growth

April 22, 2016 | Mobile

Nine in 10 US smartphone owners use location services on their phone, according to data from Pew Research Center. Still, there is significant room for growth. eMarketer estimates the number of smartphone users will increase by 8.7% in 2016, and the number of those who use location-based services is expected to rise at a near-equal pace.

US Smartphone Owners Who Have Used Location-Based Services via Smartphone, 2013 & 2015 (% of respondents)

As explored in the new eMarketer report, “Location Intelligence, H1 2016: Guidance for US Marketers on Consumer Behavior, Data Quality and Mobile Marketing Tactics,” to put the use of location services in perspective, it’s helpful to compare the penetration levels of this activity to other popular smartphone activities. When doing so, Pew found that a significantly larger share of respondents used location services, compared with those who used popular music or video services.

Two-thirds (67%) of the adult smartphone users polled said they used Pandora, Spotify or a similar music streaming service on their smartphone, just under half (47%) used video chat apps and one-third said they watched movies or TV programs on their phone via a paid subscription service like Netflix or Hulu Plus. Comparatively, 90% of respondents said they used their phone to get directions, recommendations or other information related to their location.

But how many people does 90% equate to? A back-of-the-envelope estimate based on Pew’s finding and eMarketer’s 2015 smartphone user forecast puts the number at 153 million. This group, like smartphone users as a whole, are likely to rely on apps, many of which request access to the devices’ location services. eMarketer estimates 96% of US smartphone users will regularly use apps on their phone in 2016.

Leading App Categories for Which US Mobile App Users Have Turned on Location Services, July 2015 (% of respondents)

Not all apps are created equal when it comes to obtaining permission to track a user’s location. Those that provide a compelling reason for the user to share their location—content, services and features that use location data to provide real value to a consumer—are the most likely to secure opt-ins from a majority share of their user base. For example, a July 2015 survey conducted by Research Now on behalf of Skyhook Wireless found that 65% of US mobile app users shared their location with weather apps. Far fewer shared such information with apps in other categories.

Granted, the value exchange for sharing location with a weather app is obvious to the user, with not much explanation or persuasion needed. That’s not the case with apps in other categories, however. Often location-based content, services or features are tangential to the core value proposition of the app, as is the case with some traditional social networking apps, for example. A minority share (38%) of those polled in the study said they shared their location with social networking apps.

eMarketer corporate subscription clients can view the full report here.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “Location Intelligence, H1 2016: Guidance for US Marketers on Consumer Behavior, Data Quality and Mobile Marketing Tactics.”

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer corporate subscribers.

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