Study: 42 percent of U.S. uses a smartphone

By: Brian Dolan | Jan 20, 2010        

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ChangeResearch Smartphone User PenetrationRob Havasy, a business analyst at the Boston-based Center for Connected Health, which is a part of the Partners Healthcare group, penned a thoughtful column on the state of the mHealth market. Havasy’s central point is that mobile health solutions need to be “meaningful” and “available” to all patients. That’s certainly an ideal wireless health service providers should be working towards.

Havasy argues that while devices are in the market and services are on the way, mobile health technology has yet to achieve an ease of use that opens it up to the majority of users. He points to a statistic that states less than 3 percent of the U.S.’s 276 million wireless subscribers use iPhones. What Havasy fails to mention, though, is that the iPhone is not the only smartphone available or in use in the US today. It’s certainly not the only smartphone platform offering health or medical apps. According to one research company’s longitudinal surveys, about 42 percent of Americans owned smartphones in December 2009. That stat comes from a recently released ChangeWave Research study that is based on more than 4,000 surveys conducted in early December of last year.

I agree that many of the smartphone apps available today will not likely impact a majority of people’s lives, and while 46 percent is much closer to a majority than 3 percent, the opportunity for wireless health clearly extends well beyond the smartphone platform. It needs to extend beyond that platform in order to reach many of those who would benefit from wireless health services most.

Havasy concludes that “when physiologic data and provider coaching flows just as simply [as it does for Amazon's Kindle users], even for patients whose primary means of communication is a traditional telephone, the true promise of mHealth will be realized.” Havasy is spot on. The true promise of mHealth will begin to show once ease of use challenges are overcome.

In the meantime, however, a sizeable, constantly growing group of Americans (42 percent sounds a bit high to me) of the U.S. population is using smartphones. Today. No matter who they are, that is clearly a big opportunity for mHealth. And one that should not be discounted.

Be sure to read Havasy’s article over at the Center for Connected Health blog

  • http://www.connected-health.org Rob Havasy

    Thanks for the compliments on my post. I agree that there is tremendous potential for smartphones to change care delivery, but I was primarily lamenting the options available to typical patients today. Although the Pew data focused on diminishing smartphone use for those over 65, my personal experience with our patient populations tells me that smartphone use is lower among the chronically ill than among the population as a whole, even for patients in their forties and fifties.

    I agree that 42% is a high number for smartphone adoption. Back in November, ComScore put the total number of US smartphone subscribers at just under 58 million (24 million touchscreen & 34 million non-touchscreen, see http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2009/11/Touchscreen_Mobile_Phone_Adoption_Grows_at_Blistering_Pace_in_U.S._During_Past_Year). If you use the CTIA’s total subscriber numbers of ~277 million (see http://www.ctia.org/media/industry_info/index.cfm/AID/10323) that makes all smartphones only 21% of the US subscriber base (and a lower percentage of the population as a whole).

    This leads to another issue facing mHealth today which I didn’t address in my original post. The market fragmentation today between phone operating systems (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm/WebOS, WindowsMobile … and Windows Phone 7 which is rumored to be incompatible with previous WindowsMobile versions creating yet another platform) makes developers hesitant to enter the market. So I focused in the iPhone because the App Store has at least given developers a path to make a quick return on their investment, so most new apps appear there first before (sometimes) migrating to other platforms.

  • http:/.iReminder.com Amy Yoffie

    Nice job on this article. I am wondering where I could find a breakdown of the chronically ill who have smart phones.