Which Country Uses Smartphones The Most?

Danielle Beurteaux

Maybe not the one you’d expect.

The Pew Research Center just released its annual report on global smartphone use and trends. As expected, developed economies have a larger portion of their populations owning smartphones than those less developed, although the past two years has seen an increase in smartphone-owning adults in emerging nations. What’s true in every country is that smartphone ownership and use is related to income, Internet access, education levels, and age (shout out to those aged 18 to 34!). The digital divide remains.

Pew based its research on the percentage of adult population that owns smartphones. Here, by percentage, are the top five, and they’re an interesting mix. What makes smartphones so popular in these countries?

1. South Korea: 88%

They start young in South Korea. According to one survey, 72% of South Korean students own a smartphone by the time they’re 12 and they spend 5.4 hours each day glued to that little screen. And, unfortunately, 25% of them are considered smartphone addicts. Last year, the government ruled that anyone under the age of 19 must have a monitoring app on their smartphones. But after concerns about security were raised, the most widely used app, Smart Sheriff, was pulled from the market last fall (the law is still in place, however).

The biggest app is KakaoTalk Messenger. Reportedly, 96% of smartphone owners are using it, which has made market penetration difficult for competing companies. The app includes basic messaging, video, voting, and payment capability for utilities bills. The top two free apps for Android are both Kakao-compatible (the third is KakaoTalk). Apart from Windows phones, many of the most popular apps are home-grown.

2. Australia: 77%

What are Australians doing with their smartphones? Reading the news, for one thing – especially international news. Fifty-nine percent of the country’s smartphone users keep abreast of the latest news through their devices. They’re also more likely to use a smartphone for online activities (instead of a tablet or desktop), and also spend quality time on social media apps. Top iOS downloads include the usual suspects such as Facebook and Instagram and also, according to recent App Annie stats, Face Swap Live and Stick Texting. Windows phone users like Plants vs. Zombies. Heart of Vegas – Casino Slots tops the highest gross for Android.

And they’re about to get a big speed boost from Australia’s biggest telco: Telstra announced it would launch a 1 Gbps network this year and test 5G mobile broadband in 2018.

3. Israel: 74%

Like South Korea, children in Israel get their first smartphones when they’re still in grade school. Eight-three percent of Israeli kids between the ages of 8 and 15 own a smartphone. They’re spending time on WhatsApp and between four and five hours a day using their device. Like their Australian cohort, they’re partial to Face Swap Live and Fruit Ninja for Windows. For Android, it looks like they’re preparing to hit up the poker table, with Zynga Poker – Texas Hold ‘Em topping the highest grossing app.

One possible reason for the high penetration in smartphone use is the country’s tech-savvy population and Israel’s growth as a country of startups – beginning with defense and security companies and now spreading to areas including analytics, health tech, and so much more.

4. The United States: 72%

The surprise with the US percentage is that it’s not higher. However, the number of American adults with smartphones took a big leap between 2011 and 2015, although the cost of a smartphone is still prohibitive for some.

A more recent Pew study found that Americans are using their smartphones for more than just texting, e-mail, and talking – they’re also getting directions, watching content, and listening to music through a streaming service. Interestingly enough, video chatting doesn’t seem to have taken off in the US to the extent it has in Asia.

Americans are downloading the game Stack, Face Swap Live, Minecraft, Spotify, and Zombify, and Plants vs. Zombies for iOS, and Clash of Clans and Game of War for Android.

5. Spain: 71%

Spain is the smartphone leader of Europe. Eighty percent of the Spanish go online through their smartphones, and they’re eschewing landlines and calling for communications with messaging apps. In fact, WhatsApp is the first most-downloaded free Windows and Android app, and second for iOS.

They seem to be into fitness, at least if they’re iOS users – ranked number 2 and 3 on popular apps is 7-Minute Workout and Full Fitness. Windows people prefer Sonic 4 and Plants vs. Zombies.

But, they are an Android nation with almost 90% of the market in 2015. They like Night Sky, Trivia Crack, Minecraft, and Geometry Dash.

Cloud computing, enterprise mobility, and Big Data are converging to launch the next economic transformation. Learn more about what it means for you in The Chip in Your Head Bread.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.