Commentary
1/29/2012
11:06 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
Commentary

Smartphone Adoption Higher In Europe

More U.S. consumers hold on to feature phones and dumb phones. Are U.S. carriers to blame?



Europeans are ahead of the United States when it comes to smartphone adoption. The rate in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom is about 42% compared to 39% here. Part of the reason may be the differences in how carriers operate in the two regions.

The latest ComScore report shows that Symbian still reigns in Europe, powering 32% of smartphones in use in those five countries. That doesn't mean it is the current market leader in sales, as many of those phones are a few years old. Google Android has 28% of that "E5" market and Apple iOS 21%, both of which are headquartered in the United States.

The phone market in Europe is very different from the North American market. In Europe, everything is on the GSM network and everyone uses the same radio frequencies. While you can buy a phone from a carrier on contract, it is normal to buy one on the open market, unlocked. You can then buy a SIM card from a carrier and snap it in your phone.

In the United States it is rare to buy an unlocked phone. Even if you did, you can only easily set it up on either the T-Mobile or AT&T network. Even then, with the different frequencies in use, you may be limited in what services you can get. Getting an unlocked phone on the CDMA networks that Verizon and Sprint operate is a bit more difficult.

Those differences may make Europeans a bit more comfortable investing in higher-end phones. They do it with the knowledge that they can easily switch carriers if desired. In the United States, if you change networks, your only option with your current phone is to sell it online, and then pay $200 and get locked into a two-year contract with your new carrier.

There is also the issue that U.S. consumers are confused by smartphone offerings, particularly about 4G wireless. Oddly enough, Europe is lagging in 4G implementation. That suggests that a clear message about a slower network is better received than a confusing message about a faster network.

Know anyone that is holding off on a smartphone? What are the reasons they give?

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