Commentary

The Kids Are All Right (On Smartphones)

ChineseYouthChart-B

Smartphone penetration has hit nearly 30% in the U.S., according to Nielsen, up from less than 20% a year ago, as high-end devices become increasingly mainstream. But are the young users often prized by marketers part of the smartphone surge -- or are they sticking with regular cell phones?

A new study from Nielsen looking at youth mobile use around the world found that 33% of 15- to 24-year olds in the U.S. had smartphones as of the second quarter, 5 percentage points higher than the population average. So a good chunk of young mobile users here are on smartphones, but that one-third proportion put the U.S. in the middle of the pack among the eight countries the study focused on.

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Italy had the highest proportion of smartphone users in that age group, at 47%, followed by Spain (38%) and the U.K. (36%). China and Germany both had 29%, Russia, 25%, and India, 10%. As with adults, Nielsen found price is the key consideration when it comes to kids choosing a smartphone. That's probably especially true for high school- and college-age kids, who generally have  tighter budgets  than older age groups.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted how holiday season competition among manufacturers is leading to lower smartphone prices, especially among companies like BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion, Motorola and Nokia. That trend should help to bring more young people into the smartphone fold in 2011.

Among the college-age crowd (20-24), Americans were the least likely to pay their own phone bill, with 45% paying out of their own pocket. (Only 27% of U.S. teens paid their own bill.) Thanks, Mom and Dad! One other interesting note: the U.S. is the only country among those studied where female ownership among 15- to 24-year-olds skewed higher than that for males: 55% to 45%, respectively.

When it comes to mobile Web use, China is way out ahead of other countries, at 73%. The high Web penetration stems in part from mobile phones more often being the primary Internet access device in China, which holds true in other parts of Asia. Almost half (48%) of young U.S. users browse the mobile Web. The U.S. was tops in mobile email, at 39%. After China and the U.S., Russia also rated highly in mobile data use among young people, despite its lower rate of smartphone penetration.

In China, 84% of youth use their phones for more than voice and text services, compared to 47% of adults. Nearly the same proportion of young Americans (83%) use advanced data, 32 percentage points higher than U.S. adults. Russia is next in mobile data use among young people, at 71%, followed by the U.K. (68%) and Italy (62%).

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