US smartphone ownership highest among Asians, iPhone device of choice

Nielsen has published fascinating research looking at smartphone ownership in the US based broken down by ethnicity.

Of the total population that owns phones, 31% have a smartphone. Below, from the report, is the percentage ownership of smartphones based on race – Hispanic and Asian are the biggest, proportional owners while smartphone ownership is lowest amongst Whites according to the data.

The research goes on to look at the proportion of smartphones purchased from all mobile phone sales over the last sixth months. These stats are again broken down by ethnicity with Asian top, Hispanic second and White lowest.

So having established that smartphones are proportionally highest amongst Asians (and Hispanics) and that Asians are more likely to buy smartphones, to a ratio of six in ten, the report looks at device types within each ethnicity, drawing some insightful conclusions.

But first, to give some background, the US smartphone market is currently fairly even spread between BlackBerry (27%), Android (27%) and iPhone (28%). Of the three Android is the fast gainer – gaining 20% market share between December 2009 and December 2010, a period during which Apple has remained steady (27% to 28%) while BlackBerry has lost ground (35%-27%) – other devices, such as Nokia, make up the rest of the market.

Looking at the operating system by ethnicity chart below, a number of items stand out, particularly in relation to Asian smartphone owners.

– Asians are most likely to own an iPhone

– Asians are least likely to own an Android-based device

– Asians are least likely to own a BlackBerry

– Africans are most likely to own an Android-based device and/or a smartphone by another manufacturer

– Both Whites and Hispanics are most likely to own a BlackBerry and least likely to own a smartphone by another manufacturer


What does this research say about Asian smartphone owners in America?

Based on the data, Asians are the biggest smartphone fans – as the most frequent buyers and biggest proportional owners of smartphones – which goes along the reputation that Asians are into cutting edge technology. However, with just 5% of the population estimated as Asian, according to the US Census Bureau, they represent a small niche and, though of high value individually, they are likely the country’s  smallest grossing market segment.

iPhone is the smartphone of choice amongst US-based Asians with more than one in three that own smartphones using an iPhone, while Asian usage of Android and BlackBerry is lower, proportionally, than any other ethnicity tracked in Nielsen’s report.

Based on that, with the price of iPhone higher than competing devices, Asian smartphone owners are more prolific spenders when it comes to buying a device. It is not clear, however, how monthly mobile bill spend relates between ethnicities though, an interesting point to develop.

The report doesn’t break the Asian ethnicity down into narrower demographics, for example by nationality or first/second generation/immigrant status, which would be even more telling as mobile habits can vary hugely between nationality in Asia, as it does across many other continents/areas.

Additionally, data on the type of device purchased in the last six months, based on ethnicity, would be telling as to whether Asians are sticking with iPhone or switching to the Android-based range of smartphones which are described by Nielsen as “taking the market by storm”.

What is clear is that Asians in America, though a nice market, are very smartphone concious and strive to own the best devices in the market place though they are unlikely to be driving the market.

With Android topping the list of smartphones owned in Asia, and Android-based devices set to bring increase communication and internet access to the wider Asian region where traditional internet is beyond the reach of many, this research shows a stark difference in the habits of expatriated Asians in comparison to those that reside in Asia.

However, if you compare the taste and preference of expatriated Asians to the more affluent consumers in major markets, arguably there is some synergy in wanting the top technology and smartphones, like the iPhone. Given that a level of affluence is required to expatriate a family, perhaps Asians in the US are no behaving all that differently to their social peers and equivalents in Asia?

One small note on the data, interesting though it is, it is not clear how it has been collected and therefore how valid it is though the range taken is contemporary, from October 2009-December 2010.