Measuring Asia’s Mobile Transformation

Masao Kakihara / October 2015

No other technology in history has shifted humanity at the speed that mobile has—and nowhere is this more apparent than in Asia. The growth of mobile device usage on the world’s largest and most populated continent has been nothing short of seismic. Here, in the 1st part of our Consumer Barometer series, we dig into device penetration, usage patterns, and more.

Simply put, Asia’s mobile landscape has transformed. Today, Asia leads the way when it comes to smartphone use. As of this June this year, five of the globe’s top ten countries with the highest smartphone penetration rates are located in this region.

While mobile adoption is happening in every corner of the world, there are unique aspects to the spread of smartphones in Asia (the stark contrast between the fastest and slowest smartphone-adopting countries is a good example). In many cases, smartphones have become the main conduit of communication, entertainment, information, and, increasingly, purchasing. This represents huge opportunities for brands.

In the first of a three-part series, we share key mobile trends from the Consumer Barometer study, which measured online and multiscreen adoption and usage in Asia. Along with these mobile insights, the series will also explore trends in online video as well as consumer buying behaviors that will inform your digital marketing plan.

5 of the top 10 countries with the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world are located in Asia.

Who is using smartphones the most—or the least?

  • Singapore and South Korea rank 2nd and 4th when it comes to smartphone penetration in the world (at 88% and 83%, respectively). By comparison, smartphone penetration in the U.S. checks in at #34 and the U.K. at #19.
  • Hong Kong (#7 at 79%), Taiwan (#9 at 78%), China (#14 at 74%), and Malaysia (#18 at 71%) were also leaders in smartphone usage in this region.
  • Although Indonesia and India, at 43% and 33%, respectively, are among the lowest in smartphone penetration, their large populations equal a significant number of smartphone users overall. It’s also worth noting that both countries are still in the early phases of smartphone growth and thus have extraordinary market potential.

What are people in Asia doing on their smartphones?

  • Simply put, everything. More than 70% of people in: South Korea (86%), Malaysia (79%), China (71%), and Singapore (71%) said they use smartphones as often as desktops or laptops to search the web. And more than 60% of people in: South Korea (69%), Hong Kong (63%), and Singapore (61%) view maps and directions just as often on a smartphone as a desktop or laptop.
  • Thais turns to mobile for entertainment needs. It leads other nations when it comes to smartphone activities done at least weekly—gaming (43%), checking social networks (82%), and watching online videos (72%).
  • The Southeast Asian nations Thailand (86%), Malaysia (84%) and Indonesia (72%) show the highest usage of social media on smartphones.

How are Asian smartphone users different from users in other regions?

  • Densely populated and known for its round-the-clock, competitive workforce, Hong Kong and Singapore show particularly high smartphone usage—especially to check email—compared to larger countries with a mix of urban and rural populations such as China, Indonesia, or Vietnam.
  • Many residents across Asia are watching TV; but actually, they’re not: a whopping 90% in Thailand and Vietnam use their smartphones while watching TV. That’s significantly more than in the U.S. or Western European nations.
  • Southeast Asian populations have a more positive outlook about new technology and its opportunities, while markets such as Japan, the U.S., and Australia tend to be more concerned with the risks.
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