Smartphone ownership: it’s not about income, it’s about age

A rather obvious photo of an older person using a phone

A new study from YouGov in the UK has found that it is age, rather than salary that has the greatest bearing on smartphone ownership. Currently 35% of UK adults own a smartphone (depending on how you define one), yet only 14% of 55 years + have one. I previously blogged about some key UK smartphone demographics. This new research confirms that the higher end phones are concentrated in the 25-45 year old demographic. Brands often tend to assume that their audience is a smartphone one (especially where they have middle to high income), yet rarely consider consumer age groups as part of their strategy.

For the older demographic, decisions on technology are much more about the perceived benefits than technology for the sake of it. However, that does not mean they will never use smartphones. Look at what happened with the internet. When older people realised they could buy cheap flights and compare insurance costs they got online and the sliver surfer became the second biggest user demographic. When it comes to mobile, they use SMS (close to 90%). Perhaps they don’t send as many messages as the younger age groups, but they use it when it is useful. Similarly, 1/3rd of grandparents are using social media. Facebook is the biggest picture sharing site in the world, and for grandparents it offers a good way to keep up with their grandchildren.

If mobile becomes as useful as online for travel, money or photo sharing then expect to see a large uptake by the over 55s.

Another interesting finding of the study is that the current 35% saturation is up just 33% from the previous quarter. This could indicate a slow down in smartphone buying. Perhaps most people who want one, have already bought it?

UK Smartphone Demographics Analysed

Many people want to know what smartphones people use. It’s both interesting and for many in mobile marketing, very useful. The current figures based on information published by ICM and Comscore are as follows:

Android 13%
BlackBerry 10%
iPhone 9%
Nokia (proprietary and Symbian OS) 30%
Samsung (proprietary) 19%
Sony Ericcson (proprietary and Symbian OS) 8%
Others (HTC, LG, Motorola non-Android) 10%
Windows Mobile 1%

However, a more interesting approach is to look at who is using them the most. The following shows the top handsets and who is doing what the most:

% share of UK market Largest Gender Group Largest Age Group Largest Income Bracket Used third party Apps in the last month Used mobile Web in the last month
iPhone 9% 57% men 25-34 (33%) £30-£45k (25%) 50% 91%
BlackBerry 10% 53% women 18-24 (21%) £15-£30k (22%) 26% 80%
Android 13% 62% men 25-34 (29%) £15-£30k (30%) 37% 86%

HTC Desire: currently the most popular Android phone in the UK

Within each manufacturer the top used handsets are as follows:


iPhone 3GS  -32%
iPhone 3 -24%
iPhone 4 -21%


Curve -37%
Bold -19%


HTC Desire  -30%
Samsung Galaxy -15%

For some observers the figures are unsurprising. However it’s worth pointing out a few key facts. iPhone is a premium product so their largest demographic is in a higher income bracket than their competitors. BlackBerry has BBM. That means it has appeal to both a younger and is skewed towards women. Android (and BlackBerry) have cheaper models than the iPhone and thus appeal to lower incomes. Android also has a geekier reputation, so it tend to be more popular with men. iPhone users do the most of everything – they download more apps (nearly twice as many as BlackBerry) and browse the web more.

In the world of mobile strategy I often talk about brands being able to find their customers in the mobile landscape – figures like these demonstrate how that can be done. It seems though that mobile is more polarised than other technologies. For example, could you see if your customer base uses Toshiba laptops more than any other PC? Sure it may skew more towards one demographic more than another, but there’s no polarisation that you see in mobile.

The reason for that is simple. Mobile is more than just a choice of technology. Choices of lifestyle and identity also come into it. If you’re a teenager (especially a girl) and you don’t have a BlackBerry then you may end up out of the loop socially. If you work in the media then you probably want you colleague to see you have an iPhone. Our phones are with us all the time. Our friends and colleagues see what we use. Choices are, therefore, influenced as much by fashion as they are by functionality.

UK smartphone market share: iPhone, Android & BlackBerry

Update: click here for more stats on current UK smartphones

The latest UK handset share stats have just been released by ICM Research. They have found that Android has the largest share of smartphones at 13%, followed by BlackBerry with 10% and iPhone with 9%. Overall, smartphones have increased their share of handsets in use since last year, with RIM increasing by 4% and Apple adding 2% to their market share. The largest just though was from Android who doubled their market share against the previous year. That’s thanks largely to Samsung and HTC’s mid-range handsets. Windows measly 1% share is also thanks to those two manufacturers.

‘If Apple only have 9%, how come everyone I see (apart from teenagers) has an iPhone?’ you may be asking. There are a couple of reasons for that: first of all we know that iPhone users do more of everything than anyone else – more web browsing, more app downloading – so the chances are much higher that an iPhone user will have their device in their hand. Secondly, Apple only have 2 models on the market, with the 4 and 3gs. All of the other operating systems are represented by a much larger range of phones. That makes the iPhone the most successful single handset.

According to ICM though, the outlook for Android and BlackBerry is very good as they fill the mid-range smartphone gap very nicely. Apple in the meantime probably don’t care that much. What with the app store, they make more profit than all of the others put together.