Nielsen: Italy Leads with 28% Smartphone Penetration

Nielsen just exposed some of its smartphone data, which is pretty interesting. Italy leads the West with 28% smartphone penetration; in the US it's now 16.9% according to the metrics firm. Here's the demographic profile offered by Nielsen of the typical US smartphone owner:

[P]redominantly male . . . 65% more likely than the average mobile subscriber to be between the ages of 25 and 34, and nearly two times as likely to make more than $100,000 a year.

This makes sense because of the cost of the phones and dataplans. But those demographics should change over time as plans and hardware become more affordable. We will see many $99 "smartphones" in the market before too long. There will also be a category of phones that are very inexpensive and are optimized for certain types of online activities (e.g., social networking and email).

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The 17% figure is probably a good number -- we've been using 15% based on our own surveys -- but what is the source of that figure?

The first chart above suggests an absolute smartphone subscriber number of 26.1 million (comScore says 29 million). If that 26.1 million number were 16.9% of the overall base, the base would be less than 200 million subscribers. According to CTIA, based on carrier data, there are 270 million US wireless subscribers. So I'm a little confused. I will assume the comparison numbers in the second chart are correct.

Smartphone ownership, with corresponding dataplans, is the single biggest variable in terms of mobile Internet usage, engagement and response to mobile ads. Mobile ad and app revenues will accordingly grow with smartphone penetration. So if you're a forecaster, a great deal rides on your assumptions about penetration and growth of these devices.