The Social Platform Grows: Smartphones Now Outsell Feature Phones

Samsung smartphone & tablet lineup.

Todd and I have written this week about the significance of smartphones as the platform for social media. A Pew Internet report recently released shows that eReaders are outselling tablets, which I conclude means that smartphones ought to be the primary target for social media developers. My point has been further reinforced by a Nielsenwire article reporting that smartphones now account for the majority of mobile phone purchases.

We broadly group mobile phones in two categories, smartphones and feature phones. Simply stated, smartphones have an operating system that enables it to run apps developed by third parties, which enable users to expand the functionality of the phone in an incredible number of different ways. A feature phone may have an operating system, but they generally are limited to a set number of apps and a limited amount of functionality, with little, if any, ability to expand their functionality. A popular example of a feature phone is the Motorola Razr, while the iPhone is a smartphone.

For most people, their first mobile phone was a feature phone, which existed long before smartphones. Feature phones are cheaper to buy and cheaper to own, mostly because they only support voice calls and text messaging.

Nielsen reports that in a survey of U.S. mobile users, 38% own smartphones, but more importantly, 55% of the users who bought a new phone in the past three months bought a smartphone. The majority of people who own a mobile phone still own a feature phone (62% to 38%) but that number is rapidly shrinking.

Deciding to develop social media apps for a smartphone is probably a no-brainer decision, much harder is which smartphone platform to develop for first. Nielsen shows that of the smartphones purchased in the last three months, 27% where Android phones, which is the same percentage as in their report three months earlier, while 17% of them where iPhones, up from 10% in the previous three months. The increase in iPhone purchases is most likely due to its availability on Verizon. Clearly, social media developers should target Android and iOS, but right now if they have to pick one to develop for first, Android appears to be the option to select.