There are one billion smartphones in use in the world – thats all folks

The number of smartphones in use worldwide has now broken the 1 billion mark, according to Strategy Analytics. That is a stunning landmark… It is an awful lot of smartphones. It is equivalent to one seventh of the global population and one sixth of mobile phone subscribers.

But it is a lot less smartphones than some people have been reporting. Barely a day goes by without some ludicrous estimate of smartphone penetration. Yesterday, for example, Patrick Dixon tweeted to his 42,556 followers:

“80% of people on this planet now own a smartphone, mobile web-enabled, according to David Cohen, Area VP AT&T, event in Brussels.”

It is plausible that 80 percent of people might have a web-enabled phone, though mobiThinking has never seen any data that proves it, but saying that 80 percent of people have a smartphone is ridiculous.

Why is this important? Marketing people make strategy decisions based on numbers. If smartphone penetration is overestimated then marketers might funnel their mobile investments solely into smartphones, or worse one particular type of smartphone, when the majority of their customers have ordinary phones.

mobiThinking is often asked what the penetration is of this or that smartphone in the US, Europe etc. Unfortunately the major research organizations don’t tend to share such information with anyone except paying customers. That’s why mobiThinking has always recommends starting with a cross-platform, all-embracing, mobile strategy based on mobile Web and SMS. As the number of mobile operating systems increases over the next few years, that advice is unlikely to change.

At the end of Q3, 2012 the number of smartphones in use worldwide reached 1.038 billion units, according to Strategy Analytics. This time last year there were 708 million smartphones in use worldwide. That’s 46.6 percent growth rate in a year. But growth hasn’t always been that strong.

It has taken 16 years for smartphone penetration to reach 1 billion. The first major smartphone is commonly accepted to be the Nokia Communicator in 1996 – 11 years before Apple’s iPhone. But Strategy Analytics believes that it will only take three years to achieve the next billion.

Despite all the hype to the contrary, Nokia’s Symbian operating system – dumped in favor of Microsoft in early 2011 – remained the dominant global smartphone operating system until recently. (It would be very interesting to know when exactly Android overtook Symbian).

About smartphone operating systems Strategy Analytics says: “Android and Apple iOS combined will account for the significant majority of the global smartphone installed base in 2012, while the rapid decline in the installed base of Symbian and BlackBerry continues. Looking forward to 2017, Android and Apple iOS will remain the dominant smartphone platforms, but we forecast Microsoft to consistently gain installed base share as the platform matures and some fatigue sets in with the incumbent platform leaders. We also forecast nascent platforms such as Tizen and Firefox OS to grow in popularity, as the benefits of HTML5-based ‘cloud phones’ become more apparent.”

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