Feature Article

December 17, 2013

Smartphone Penetration in the U.S. Varies Wildly By Region

If you walk around any major U.S. city, you could be forgiven for the assumption that all Americans, from school-age children to the elderly and in every demographic in between, are in possession of smartphones. Whether they are talking, texting, e-mailing, Web surfing, listening to music or playing Candy Crush saga, everyone seems to be glued to a tiny screen. The images bring to mind a Zombie Apocalypse, with everyone shambling along mindlessly, their attention elsewhere.

So it’s surprising to realize that not everyone in the U.S. has a smartphone. In fact, a recent infographic from Esri, based on data gathered by GfK MRI, identifies great swathes of the U.S. that are seriously free of smartphones.

While data from comScore finds that nearly 150 million Americans own smartphones - which sounds like a lot - it’s important to remember that there are over 300 million people in the U.S. Even accounting for the fact that several million of these people are likely under 10 years old, that leaves a lot of Americans without the supposedly ubiquitous devices.

The interactive map from Esri uses light to dark shading to show the level of smartphone penetration in each region. As could be expected, the darkest colors are around major U.S. metropolises, along the northeastern seaboard and throughout most of Southern California. Light-colored regions, indicting low penetration of smartphones, cover much of the Midwest, including a great swathe of Nebraska where it seems smartphones are a rare sight.

The infographic doesn’t venture a reason for the low penetration. Jobs concentrated in and around cities may require employees to remain more in touch. Perhaps the populations in these low penetration regions are older, or cell phone service is too spotty to make the purchase of a smartphone worthwhile. It could be linked to lower income, or smartphone makers and wireless companies choosing not to spend marketing dollars in these places. In many cases, the residents of these areas are still carrying feature phones.

“It’s a visual reminder that smartphones are still only 64 percent of the phones in the U.S.,” writes Christopher Mims for the Web site Quartz. “If you’re an American, you may not have seen a feature phone in a while. If so, that’s probably because, like 80.7 percent of your countrymen, you live in a city.”

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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