Annie Sciacca

It wasn’t long ago that smartphones—cellphones built on mobile operating systems with more advanced computing capabilities—were an innovation that only the truly tech savvy or wealthy owned. But all that has changed, and it is now almost the an exception to own a cellphone that is not a smartphone.

It’s not just that smartphones appear ubiquitous these days—they truly are.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, nearly half — 46 percent — of American adults own smartphones as of February 2012, a noticeable increase over the 35 percent of Americans who were smartphone users last May.

In fact, more adults in the U.S. are smartphone owners now than users of basic cellphones, who make up only 41 percent of American adults, the study said.

The increase in smartphone ownership appears among men and women, younger and middle-aged adults, urban and rural residents and those who are wealthy and not — almost all of the major demographic groups. The highest level of smartphone ownership is among college graduates, 18 to35-year-olds and those with household incomes of more than $75,000.

With the increase of smartphone ownership in the last year, there has also been a shift in the types of phones that Americans report owning from a similar study by the Pew Center done in May 2011:

- 20 percent of cellphone owners now describe their phone as an Android phone, up from 15 percent in May 2011

- 19 percent of cellphone owners now report their phone as an iPhone, up from 10 percent in May 2011

- 6 percent of cellphone owners now describe their phone as a BlackBerry device, down from 10 percent in May 2011

Despite the generally widespread increase in ownership of smartphones, the study shows that smartphone ownership decreases dramatically with age even among adults with similar levels of education. Young adults’ level of smartphone ownership tend to be high, regardless of income or their level of education, while for seniors, smartphone ownership tends to be relatively uncommon across the board—but particularly for less educated and affluent seniors.

According to a report from Business Insider, the fact that there are such high levels of smartphone ownership means that the US smartphone market will soon lose the strength it has had in the annual growth in the number of new users. Instead, it will have to become more driven by upgrade and replacement sales, which will slow down the growth in smartphone sales.

Another trend the PEW study discovered is that more people are able to answer questions about whether they own a smartphone or not.

“To be sure,” the study said, “there is still some confusion around this term as 8 percent of cell owners are still not sure if their phone is a smartphone. However, this is a significant decrease from the 14 percent of cell owners who were not sure if their phone was a smartphone or not in May 2011.”

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