On 3 April 1973, Motorola employee Martin Bell made the world’s first mobile phone call. Nearly 50 years on, more than 5 billion people are connected to mobile services – and over half are smartphone users.
But while internet access continues to improve worldwide, developed countries still account for by far the highest shares of smartphone users.
In South Korea 95% of adults own a smartphone, and 5% have a regular mobile phone. By contrast 75% of adults in India don’t have a smartphone, although 40% do have a mobile phone.
The digital divide
South Korea is the world leader in smartphone take-up – it is the only country where 100% of the adult population have a mobile phone.
It’s a similar picture in Israel, the Netherlands and Sweden, where more than 85% of adults have smartphones and just 2% have no mobile phone at all.
In Poland and Russia, where 30% and 34% of adults use regular mobile phones, the rate of smartphone ownership is significantly lower, at 63% and 59% respectively.
But Canada, where one-quarter of the population has no mobile phone, is a notable exception among advanced countries. Here, high smartphone usage in built-up areas is matched with low, or no, connectivity in the remote wilderness.
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Japan – perhaps surprisingly, given the country’s obsession with high-tech gadgets – also has a relatively low rate of smartphone ownership at 66%.
While smartphones are still beyond the reach of the poorest communities, rising living standards are creating huge new mobile markets across the developing world. China and India now have larger smartphone markets than the US, and Indonesia’s and Brazil’s are growing rapidly too.
But these gains are unevenly distributed. Pew research shows that in both advanced and developing nations, younger (under 35), educated people with higher incomes are more likely to own a smartphone.
In emerging economies with limited access to education, that gap becomes even wider. For example, in Nigeria 58% of adults with a secondary education use social media, compared with just 10% of those with less education.