Thanks to the phenomenal popularity of Apple’s iPhone and Android’s growing traction — more than 550,000 Android devices are activated each day — many product strategists tend to assume that smartphones are a mass-market phenomenon.

The reality is that in a global population with more than 5 billion subscriptions, smartphones are still niche. However, in the US and some European countries, smartphone penetration is racing past 25%; smartphones are going mainstream, albeit at a varying pace across the globe.

Consumer product strategists should anticipate the consequences of moving from a smartphone target audience of early adopters to one that is more mainstream.

When targeting the second wave of smartphone users, we believe strategists should: 

  • Design specific mobile products by better understanding new smartphone owners. New segments of smartphone owners will emerge, with a much more diverse profile than the first wave of smartphone early adopters. One way to obtain more detailed information about these consumers is to use the basic connectivity of the smartphone to establish the beginnings of a digital customer relationship. The promise of ongoing product upgrades is one incentive that may convince these new customers to share their information, but free content such as an application is more likely to win their confidence.
  • Carefully monitor new smartphone owners’ usage. There is always a huge gap between the features available on a smartphone and the actual use of these features. It is critical to constantly analyze how smartphone users are using their devices; this will allow strategists to optimize the road maps not only for new devices but also for those products and services to be delivered to the second wave of smartphone users. 
  • Remember to provide basic features for users in emerging markets. While smartphone penetration will grow in most countries around the world, it is likely that a majority of consumers — even in the BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China — will continue to own a feature phone for the next two to three years. Consumer product strategists should tailor some product experiences for local mobile browsers, such as UCWeb and Opera Mobile. SMS has also proved to be a very efficient way to engage with consumers in India, as shown by SMS GupShup.

 My colleague Charles Golvin and I have just published a new report, “The Global Mainstreaming Of Smartphones,” which is available to clients. It uses Forrester’s Technographics® segmentation and identifies the factors influencing adoption rates.

What’s influencing adoption rates in your local market? Tell us in the comments.