OPINION: Why Australians love their smartphones

Thomas Lyngsfeldt
By Thomas Lyngsfeldt | 30 July 2013

Why does Australia have one of the highest smartphone penetrations in the world?

Australians love their smartphones. Recent figures from Kantar Worldpanel show we boast a smartphone penetration of 65%, which is the highest of the countries measured by Kantar Worldpanel. In fact, Australia has had one of the highest smartphone penetrations in the world since 2010. Does that mean we are a nation of early adopters as most industry commentators suggest?

The answer is not that straight forward.

The iPhone has been the biggest driver behind smartphone penetration, both here and overseas. In Australia however, we had a unique set of circumstances that aided the spread of iPhones: Australia was one of few countries in the world where all major telcos — Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and 3 — carried the iPhone when it launched in 2008.

In the US, people still have to sign up with AT&T if they want an iPhone, as it is the exclusive iPhone carrier. Here, competition between the four mobile carriers was fierce as they fought to sign up customers, and that accelerated the adoption of iPhones in Australia.

A smartphone is considered a premium product as most consumers have to pay a high proportion of their salary to acquire it. Unfortunately for Apple, it kicked off the global launch of the iPhone as the GFC struck in 2007 and 2008. The drop in global consumer confidence in the wake of the GFC hampered the growth of smartphones in markets that felt the biggest impact of the economic meltdown, such as Europe and the US.

The impact of the crisis on Australia has been considerably less than in many other countries, with markedly better growth rates than most other developed economies. The relative financial security of Australian consumers at the time of smartphones’ introduction made it easier for us to afford such a premium product.

So is Australia’s high smartphone penetration down to the launch of iPhone across multiple carriers and the great Australian economy? The same factors existed in Canada, and yet smartphone penetration in that country was only 33% in 2012. In what way does Australia differ from the other countries?

It could very well come down to the fact that Australia is a nation of foreigners. 29% of the Australia’s population is born overseas and 36% of Australians have parents who were born overseas, according to Roy Morgan. These people have to communicate with their family and friends overseas and the easiest and cheapest ways is through social media networks or internet call services such as Skype.

Figures from Roy Morgan show that people who were not born in Australia are 55% more likely to use Skype than the average Australian. They are also more likely to communicate with friends on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Smartphones have made it possible to communicate with friends through Skype and social networks on the go without being limited to a computer. For the high number of Aussies and expat workers with friends and family overseas, the smartphone fulfils a need to communicate with their loved ones no matter where they are and what time it is.

The Australian smartphone user is generally more active on the smartphone in comparison to users in other countries. Australians are doing more online browsing on their phones, conducting more product searches, doing more mobile banking and mobile commerce, and they are downloading more apps than smartphone owners in other countries.

Useful technologies on mobiles such as mobile banking and PayPal are further accelerating the adoption of the smartphone. It is important that we as marketers provide relevant content on the mobile that fulfils consumer needs and becomes an integrated part of everyday life.     

Australia may have one of the highest penetration rates in the world in smartphones, Facebook and Skype usage, but it’s not necessarily because Australia is a nation of early adopters. The reason lies in a combination of favourable circumstances in the economy, immigration, the multiple carrier launch and accessible relevant content for mobile.

Thomas Lyngsfeldt
Digital manager

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