comScore: Japan, An Early Mover In Mobile, Trails The U.S., Others In Smartphones

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Smartphone users are, country by country, starting to gradually outnumber those who are using feature phones, and at the same time, consumers have passed a different kind of penetration: a majority are now using mobile devices to do a lot more than just make phone calls.

A lengthy annual report out from comScore today, surveying mobile usage across Canada, France, Germany Italy, Japan, Spain, the U.S. and U.K., found that mobile media usage has passed the 50 percent mark, meaning that more than half of us are accessing the web, apps and content downloads on our smartphones. But it’s not always the case that more smartphones always equals more media usage. In fact, the highest usage of mobile media comes from the country with the lowest smartphone penetration.

It’s Japan, where comScore says 76.2 percent of the population is using mobile media services, but where, surprisingly, less than 17 percent have smartphones. This is in contrast to the U.K. and U.S., where the correlation is a little more direct: smartphones now respectively account for 51.3 and 41.8 percent of all devices, and 56.6 percent and 55.2 percent of mobile users are accessing mobile media.

Ironically, it seems that Japan’s early move into mobile content – the i-mode service from DoCoMo, launched in the 1990’s, being one of the very first plays at offering more than just voice and text to users – is partly to blame.

comScore notes that the prevalence of those services and handsets presented a “barrier to entry” for smartphone makers, who perhaps didn’t have as hungry a market to serve. Smartphones are making more headway Japan now, comScore says, with Android and iOS platforms accounting for 94.1 percent of devices sold and more devices coming online at lower price points. (One of those, a Disney Mobile phone with NTT Docomo running a forked version of Android, is pictured here.)

Mobile still a niche player. Japan is not the only surprise in this report. Another is that even with a majority of the people using mobile devices to access media, web usage is still minor compared to PCs. comScore notes that in the U.S. in December, handsets contributed 5.2 percent, tablets 2.5 percent and “other” devices 0.5 percent of Internet access. Together that still only makes 8.2 percent, with computers accounting for the rest. Other countries surveyed had similarly low numbers:

One other interesting disconnect in the research is that although Android is the more popular platform overall, it turns out that Apple accounted for the top three devices sold in the U.S. in 2011, and the top two in the European countries surveyed by comScore. So while Android is the platform winner, Apple wins the day on devices.