Smartphone Penetration’s Increasing Fastest Among Older Americans

November 22, 2017

More than 8 in 10 US adults (82%) own or have ready access to a smartphone this year, up from 70% a couple of years ago, reports Deloitte in the US edition of its Mobile Consumer Survey [pdf]. While penetration is broadest – at 90% or higher – among 18-44-year-olds, overall increases in adoption are being driven by older Americans.

This year, two-thirds of respondents ages 55-75 reported ownership or ready access to smartphones, up from a slim majority (53%) in 2015. And more than 8 in 10 adults ages 45-54 now have access to a smartphone, up from 65% a couple of years ago.

The compound annual growth rate in adoption from 2015-2017 is highest among these two age brackets, each at close to 8%.

It’s worth noting that these figures seem fairly aggressive compared to others: last year, the Pew Research Center found that despite growing adoption of smartphones, ownership remained in the minority (42%) of those ages 65 and older.

The discrepancy may owe to Pew’s research being fielded roughly 18 months ago – and their results being among a more senior demographic (65+ rather than 55-75).

Most Older Americans Use Their Smartphones Every Day

The Deloitte report reveals that as smartphone penetration grows, there’s consistency in usage across age groups. About 9 in 10 smartphone owners in each age bracket report using their device on a daily basis, ranging from a low of 88% among 25-34-year-olds to a high of 94% among 18-24-year-olds.

Not only are older Americans using smartphones, but they’re also active users of their smart watches too. In fact, Deloitte’s study indicates that daily use of smart watches is highest among the 55-75 demographic, of whom three-quarters use them daily. By comparison, just 58% of 18-24-year-olds use theirs daily, as do 60% of 25-34-year-olds.

Emerging Tech Adoption Grows

These results are based on small sample sizes, though. For the time being, 13% of US adults own or have access to a smart watch. That’s a limited increase from last year (12%), but represents a much greater jump from 2015 (4%). Earlier this year the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) reported a 4% increase in household penetration for smart watches.

Meanwhile, adoption of fitness bands has reached almost one-quarter (23%) of respondents, up from 17% last year. Among emerging technologies, wearables represent the most mature market, per separate CTA research.

That same CTA study indicated that virtual reality devices are poised for strong growth – with a projected 79% increase in unit sales this year. Deloitte’s survey results suggest that 1 in 10 adults now owns a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Interest in wearable technology seems to be on the rise: 69% are interested in at least one of the 6 wearables identified in the report, up from 59% a couple of years ago. Indeed, the study’s results suggest that interest in ownership has increased for each of these devices, led by smart watches (32% interested) and fitness bands. Close to 1 in 5 also express interest in smart clothing (18%) and VR handsets (18%).

Connecting With the Always-On Smartphone User

Separately, Deloitte’s study shows that Americans continue to check their phones frequently throughout the day, an estimated 47 times on average. While various frequency estimates have tended to diverge wildly from each other over the years, what’s notable is that there hasn’t been a measurable increase from previous Deloitte studies.

Nonetheless, the vast majority report looking at their phones within an hour of waking up (89%) and within an hour before preparing to sleep (81%).

Connecting with these mobile device owners requires an understanding of how and where they’re using their phones.

As it turns out, they’re using them almost everywhere: while out shopping (92%), while watching TV (89%), while talking to friends and family (85%) and while eating at restaurants (81%) or at home (78%). A majority (54%) also use their phones while in business meetings.

Use of smartphones’ main communication activities is also climbing. More than 9 in 10 text message on at least a weekly basis (a 5-year high), while 86% make voice calls and 81% send and receive emails (also a 5-year high). Some 72% now also use social networks on their smartphones on at least a weekly basis (up from 60% in 2015), and 30% make video calls (up from 17%).

The full report, which is based on a survey of 2,000 US consumers ages 18-75, is available here [pdf].

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