If there was ever any doubt that smartphones had become a mass medium in the U.S., then Christmas Day 2012 should end the skepticism. We have been watching many metrics firms estimate that penetration lurks somewhere south of 50% in this market all year, with predictions that the needle will edge past the middle by 2012. Christmas may have given the numbers the push they needed. Everyone and their brother’s metrics startups are issuing flash reports this week about just how dramatically holiday 2012 is impacting the market in advanced handsets.
To wit, app analytics firm Flurry says that it saw 6.8 million new iOS and Android devices activated on Christmas Day alone. The spike in newcomers represented a 353% increase over the 1.3 million to 1.8 million daily activations tracked for the period of Dec. 1-20. Compared even to last Christmas Day, when Flurry saw 2.8 million iOS and Android activations, this past Sunday was up 140% from same day last year. This past Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m. and staying level throughout the day, people downloaded about 10 million apps an hour, Flurry estimates.
After years of what was described to me weekly as Droid Hell, my daughter finally got her iPhone for Christmas this year. And the race to download was on. If her patterns were any indication, Angry Birds, Facebook and Netflix had very good weekends. And as the demos for these phones get younger, the taste for free content will expand. In some sense the early smartphone and app economy were skewed older by cost and perhaps a certain parental reticence over conferring a high-end device to a teen. As the smartphone becomes affordable and the price of data plans get built into family cost structures, a next wave of even younger smartphone owners could tilt the app economy towards ad-supported opportunities.
With apps flowing to these new devices at a rate of 10 million an hour at some points on Christmas Day, Flurry estimates that 1 billion apps will go out to these phones worldwide just this week. On the one hand, marketers can celebrate the critical mass this platform has achieved. On the other hand, that is a lot of ad inventory and real estate flooding a market already swamped in space. Lab42 released a survey earlier this month showing that 51% of users surveyed recalled clicking on between one to five in-app ads in recent months, but half couldn’t recall what the ad was for.
Another app analytics firm, Localytics, saw similar levels of new users. About 12.5 times more iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) were activated over the Dec. 23-26 weekend than has been the average since Nov. 25, the company says. iPhone comprised the lion’s share of new iOS devices coming online last weekend, with a 14x spike over normal. But the iPod Touch is resilient, with 21x typical activations. Android was running neck and neck with iOS in the U.S., but in some overseas markets like South Korea, its holiday growth was stronger than iOS.
As a result of smartphone and tablet gift-giving, Christmas Day is the heaviest day for app downloads as new owners get their first taste of the app ecosystem. Flurry says that on a typical day earlier in the month, 108 million apps were downloaded to mobile devices. On Christmas, however, 241 million flowed from the respective app stores, up 125% over normal. The company expects that by the time this holiday week is over, over 1 billion apps will have been downloaded.
These new levels of use build on other recent gains. Fiksu, which helps app makers market their wares, claims that the increase in iPhone 4S owners over the holiday helped push download volume in the U.S. of top 200 free iPhone apps up 15% between October and November. In November the most popular apps in the U.S. App Store were being downloaded at a rate of 5.65 million per day, up 83% from the year ago period.
Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, smartphone adoption has been the key driver of mobile media consumption. Cisco predicted today that mobile data use worldwide is poised to grow 21x by 2015.