One does not need to be a data analyst to figure out that smartphones have taken the world by storm. All you really need is a pair of eyes. It's clear that our phones have become intertwined with almost all aspects of our lives. Nearly everyone has one, and we're pretty much glued to them 24/7.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up for interpretation. On the one hand, our phones open up so many opportunities. On the other hand, we don't honestly know the impact of so much screen time or our total reliance on digital technology.
Leaving philosophical discussions to the side for the moment, let's look at some numbers related to phones. Some are surprising, and others are downright shocking, but they all give us some insight into just how important phones have become in the year 2021.
To get started, here are some general stats about smartphones around the world:
As of writing, more than four billion people in the world have a smartphone. This is a pretty remarkable number considering it represents more than half of the world's population.
At first glance, maybe thought there would be more? Yet, a little less than a third of the world's population are children, which means that almost all adults worldwide have a smartphone.
Of course, there are places where persistent poverty makes it difficult for smartphone ownership to take off. However, as we'll see in a moment, the younger populations in these countries are rapidly getting connected, suggesting we are well on our way to near-100 percent penetration when it comes to smartphone use.
What's also interesting is the growth in smartphone users. Check out this graph using data from Statista:
As you can see, the number of smartphones in the world has more than quadrupled since 2012. A big reason for this is the falling cost of devices, making them more accessible to lower-income brackets. The widespread availability of mobile broadband is also a contributing factor. Only time will tell if growth continues into the future or if it begins to level off.
How many of those smartphone users live here in the United States, you ask? A tiny percentage; there are currently 270 million smartphones in the US. Of course, the US makes up a relatively small portion of the world's population, so this number isn't too significant.
However, we do know that 270 million people having smartphones means that 81 percent of the population has a device to their name. This is pretty high, though it's not the highest number in the world. That title belongs to...
According to a study from Pew, not only does every single South Korean have a cellphone of some sort, but 95 percent of the population has a smartphone, which is the highest penetration rate in the world.
Let's take a look at the complete list provided in the study:
The United States is tied for fifth with Australia when it comes to smartphone penetration rates. Interestingly, there are so many "rich" European countries with relatively low penetration rates, such as the UK, France, and Italy.
Of course, penetration rates aren't low, but we would expect numbers more similar to those found in the US if income were the only factor. As as we'll see in a moment, it isn't always. Age often plays more of a role, and these four countries have some of the oldest populations globally, which might explain why penetration rates aren't higher.
In general, the Global South, the term we use to refer to the poorer, emerging economies, have fewer smartphones. Low incomes are presumably to blame for this.
However, when we dig deeper into the numbers, we can see that age plays a significant factor. Even in the richer countries we just looked at, it plays a role. Take a look at some of these numbers:
What makes penetration rates in the US higher than those in, say the UK, is that more of the older population has a smartphone. The same is true in Japan, Italy, Germany, Canada, and France. When we look at the developing countries, we see an even bigger gap.
For example, in Indonesia, just 13 percent of the people aged 50+ have smartphones, whereas 66 percent of those between 18-34-years-old have one. A similar situation is also playing out in the Philippines.
This suggests that smartphone use is growing rapidly and that sometime soon, as these younger groups age, overall penetration rates will continue to rise.
As we can see, smartphone penetration rates still haven't reached 100 percent in the US, and they still aren't all that close. We know that part of the reason for this is that is age – older people are less likely to have a smartphone. However, there's likely something else at play.
According to Pew, 91 percent of college graduates have a smartphone. If we continue looking at these numbers, we find that 85 percent of people with "some college," 72 percent of high school graduates, and just 66 percent of adults without a high school degree have smartphones.
This suggests that education level has something to do with one's ability to get a smartphone. However, if we look a little closer, we see that it's not so much the education as what that education gets you, mainly a high-paying job.
If we take a look at how income affects smartphone ownership numbers, here's what we find:
Clearly, the most significant barrier to getting a smartphone is income. This makes sense; smartphones are expensive. It also mirrors what we see going on in other parts of the world. Therefore, if what we want is for everyone to have a smartphone, we need to pay attention to the rising income inequality in the United States.
Okay, we know what you're thinking: you just said that there were 4 million smartphone users?
A big reason why the number of devices is so much higher is that many people have more than one device. Just think about all the people you know who have a work phone and a personal phone.
If we break these numbers down, we find that, on average, each person in the world owns 1.4 smartphones. However, we know there are only four billion users, meaning each smartphone user owns 2.5 smartphones. Since not everyone has two, this means that there are a lot of people out there with two or more. Crazy when you think about it!
Given some of these numbers, it should be reasonably clear that smartphones are big business. But just how big? Let's dig into some smartphone industry numbers to see just how significant this sector of the global economy is.
As you might imagine, with all these smartphone users, the smartphone industry is big business. Led by major multinational corporations such as Samsung, Apple, and Huawei, more than 1.5 billion smartphones are sold each year.
However, when we look at how things have been developing over time, using numbers provided by Statista, we see that we may have reached the end of the growth period.
Things have been fairly level for some time, and as people grow tired of the whole "let's buy a new phone every two years" thing, and as penetration rates continue to rise, it will be interesting to see if this has an impact on the number of smartphones sold each year.
One could argue that making and selling so many smartphones each year is a slightly wasteful practice. These devices are made of plastic and require other precious metals, such as silicon, lithium, and gold, all taken from the earth in ways that harm the environment. Plastic is made from oil, and the others need to be mined.
The other side of the coin is that the smartphone industry is a big one, directly providing more than 14 million jobs to the global economy. This doesn't take into account all the jobs it indirectly provides (think of the people shipping the phones, repairing them, marketing them, etc.)
So, maybe the path forward is to improve the industry's environmental impact to continue to support its positive effects on job creation.
For those of us living in the United States, this stat might be surprising because most of us assume that Apple would be the leader. However, worldwide, Samsung is the winner. Some of this has to do with cost. Apple devices are notoriously expensive, but Samsung has its own pricey models. So it likely comes down to preference.
Here's a list of the top ten smartphone companies in the world:
8. Lenovo (Motorola)
Unless you're well-informed about the smartphone market, you've probably never heard of some of these brands. Interestingly, Apple is actually number three, behind Huawei, which is the top brand in China.
What this list reminds us of is the power of the Chinese market. Xiaomi holds just 27 percent of the Chinese market, yet it's the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. That's what happens when your market consists of a billion people.
While Apple stands in third place around the world, it is the leader in the US. Currently, around 42 percent of smartphones in the US are made by Apple. Anecdotally, this number seems small, as it seems like the majority of people in the US have iPhones. Yet, the numbers don't lie.
Still, this level of market share in the US speaks to the brand's popularity in the country where its headquartered. Part of this could be the result of the US's relatively high incomes compared to other countries, but it's also got a lot to do with culture. Nothing says "you're cool" in the US, quite like having an iPhone.
Although Apple ranks third for smartphone sales, when we change the conversation to talk about operating systems, Apple gets blown out of the water. Eighty-one percent of smartphones around the world use the Android operating system.
At first, this might seem like a crazy number, but if we look back at the manufacturers' list, things start to make sense. Apple's operating system, iOS, is only used on Apple devices. All other companies use Android. This means that the vast majority of phones use Android – more than two-thirds, to be exact.
Okay, now that we've seen how many smartphones and smartphone users are out there, and examined the smartphone industry, let's look at how people use their phones. Most of these stats will shock you. Some will scare you.
In the last few years, mobile's share of overall web traffic surpassed desktop devices. This is big news as it shows us that people are becoming more and more comfortable with their phones. It also falls right in line with the growth in the number of smartphone users. As more people get them, they are using them more and more.
Our phones have also become our primary means of searching for information. Whether we're researching a product to buy, a restaurant to eat at, or random facts to impress our friends, the vast majority of us turn right to our phones when we want to know something. It makes sense; they're hardly ever further away than our pockets.
One of the reasons smartphones have become as popular is apps. Mobile applications make navigating the web on the phone much, much easier. Therefore, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the vast majority of the time we spend on our phones is spent in apps.
This brings up another question, if less than 10 percent of the time we spend on our phones is spent calling and texting, does it make sense to keep calling them phones?
This is not likely to change anytime soon, but it's worth noting as it shows just how much this technology, and our world, has evolved in a relatively short time.
This number tells us that when we're consuming media, it's more than likely we're consuming it on our phone. Whether it's the news, social media, YouTube videos, Netflix, or something else, our phones provide us with direct, instant access to whatever media we might want. The screen is small, sure, but that doesn't seem to bother us too much.
Yes, you read that right. We look at our phones nearly 100 times per day. To put this in perspective, let's say that the average person sleeps eight hours per day. This means that in the 16 hours they are awake, they are checking their phone every 9.6 minutes.
Does that make sense? Checking your phone at least every ten minutes is a pretty common thing. For some, this is out of necessity, especially those who use their phones for work. No matter the reason, this statistic reminds us that we are pretty attached to our phones.
Again, when you stop to think about it, this number might not seem all that shocking. Let's play around with it to put it into context.
As we just said, if we sleep for eight hours, then we're awake for 16, meaning about one-third of our waking lives are spent looking at a phone.
To extrapolate this out a bit, this means that we spend 1.45 days per week, six days per month, and about 75 days per year looking at our phone. If we live to be 75-years-old, then we will have spent a total of 15 years of our lives looking at a phone. Wow!
Of course, this isn't all bad. We use our phones to talk to people, learn, entertain ourselves, etc. Yet, given we have just one life to live, it's worth asking if we want to spend a third of it staring at a tiny screen.
Maybe we do, but no matter what, it speaks to something we can sense intuitively: we are hooked to our phones.
As these numbers might suggest, there may be such a thing as smartphone addiction. And there is! In total, around two-thirds of people admit to suffering from nomophobia; the term used to describe the fear of being without our phones, a surefire symptom of addiction.
Whether or not this translates into an actual clinical addiction is yet to be seen. However, the fact remains that we use our phones a lot and don't know what to do with ourselves when we don't have them.
To keep building this case that we are hooked to our phones, consider that around half of all Americans say they can't live without their phone. This is remarkable, considering that 20 years ago, none of us had these devices.
What's interesting is watching the elderly. They spent 75 percent of their lives without the internet, but many will now turn around if they leave the house without their phone.
Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. People need their phones for work, and they do provide a security blanket in the event of an emergency. But these numbers do provide us with some insight into how these devices are shaping our lives. They allow us to examine our habits and decide if we want to make some changes.
Part of the reason why we have become so attached to our phones is that we are getting them when we are younger and younger. There is immense social pressure to have a phone in high school, but around half of all kids get their first smartphone when they are just ten.
What's the right age to introduce kids to smartphones? This is a question we've yet to answer. According to Bill Gates, his kids didn't get one until they were 14 or high school.
Everyone makes this decision for their own reasons, but it's interesting to see that most people give their kids a phone three years before one of the world's most influential tech gurus gave one to his.
Shortly after kids get their phones, they head to social media. This is normal; one of the reasons we have smartphones is to communicate, and social media makes that easier than ever. What's interesting is that most social media platforms have minimum age requirements, suggesting kids are falsifying their age to get online sooner and more often.
Well, there you have it. All the facts and figures you could possibly want about smartphones. What did we learn? For one, we learned that smartphones are more popular than ever and that we use them a lot. Both of these trends are likely to continue into the near future, but beyond that, who knows? The world has changed so much in the past ten years, it's impossible to imagine what it might look like in another ten.