What will smartphone & tablet adoption ultimately be?

When thinking about which devices to support on a conference program system, we have to understand what percentage of conference participants own smartphones or tablets. Furthermore, since planning of a conference will happen many months before the actual event, we need to predict nearly a year into the future.

There are some interesting trends here.

Smartphone adoption in Japan is fast but still around 40%

According to a survey from Impress R&D on November, 2012, the percentage of smartphone users in Japan is 39.9%. Usage skews towards people less than 40 years old, and adoption for those above 50 years is about 20%.

Adoption growth has been linear since September, 2010, and there are no signs of slowing down.



Compared to the US, adoption percentage is lagging. However, adoption speed is similar.


From Asymco.

If linear growth continues, adoption in Japan will increase more than 15 percentage points in the course of 2013, bringing the total adoption to more than 55%.

Docomo BCN 2013 01 30 10 45
There are signs that smartphone adoption may be slowing down in Japan

BCN ranking lists mobile phones by sales data provided by a sample of retail outlets in Japan (which notably excludes the Apple Store and a large number of carrier stores). An interesting recent observation is that feature phones are ranking high in the list.

Of the 10 top-ranking phones provided by DoCoMo (the largest carrier in Japan with 50% subscriber share, but which doesn’t carry the iPhone), 4 were feature phones. The 3rd highest ranking phone was a feature phone. In November, 2012, the situation was even more severe with 6 out of 10 being feature phones, and the top ranking phone being a feature phone.

Another interesting survey suggests that 66.2% of people who purchased a new smartphone at the end of 2012 purchased an iPhone, and only 31.9% purchased Android. Given that DoCoMo retains 50% of subscribers but doesn’t carry the iPhone, this survey, if accurate, suggests that DoCoMo isn’t selling many Android phones but rather selling feature phones. We might be seeing smartphone growth slowing down in Japan with the slowdown being more pronounced for Android and less so for the iPhone.

Android share growth is slowing in the US

Asymco notes that Android growth is slowing down in the US (1, 2), whereas iPhone growth is not. It is possible that this situation is the same as in Japan.


The discussion in the comments suggest that as the smartphone market matures, late adopters (who tend to be the more cautious customers) will gravitate to the iPhone, while many early adopters will convert to the iPhone due to better customer loyalty on the Apple side.

Final smartphone penetration in Japan depends on whether DoCoMo will carry the iPhone

If the discussion in Asymco is true and our assumption that a similar situation is occurring in Japan is also true, then we can conclude that DoCoMo customers will either convert to other iPhone-carrying networks, or revert to feature phones. Since DoCoMo has the best coverage of all networks and is the most established carrier, late adopter customers will tend to stick with this network. Hence, although there will be a significant exodus to other networks, the more pronounced result will be low smartphone purchases at DoCoMo, and hence low smartphone penetration in Japan as a whole.

In conclusion, my prediction is that Japanese smartphone adoption will start to slow down in 2013 mainly driven by slowing Android sales. The result is that adoption will be less that 50% at the end of 2013. If DoCoMo decides to carry the iPhone however, smartphone adoption will maintain linear growth or may be even exceed it. In this case, we might see adoption of 60% at year end.

In either case, the feature phone market in Japan will remain relevant. The Ponzu conference system needs to maintain a web site for feature phones at least for the next few years.

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