Monday, May 14, 2012

Smart Phones and Tablets Might Be Spreading Faster Than Any Technologies in Human History

Click to enlarge.

From an article in MIT's Technology Review "Are Smart Phones Spreading Faster than Any Technology in Human History?":

"Presented in the top graphic above is the U.S. market penetration achieved by nine technologies since 1876, the year Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Penetration rates have been organized to show three phases of a technology's spread: traction, maturity, and saturation. 

Those technologies with "last mile" problems—bringing electricity cables or telephone wire to individual homes—appear to spread more slowly. It took almost a century for landline phones to reach saturation, or the point at which new demand falls off. Mobile phones, by contrast, achieved saturation in just 20 years. Smart phones are on track to halve that rate yet again, and tablets could move still faster, setting consecutive records for speed to market saturation in the United States.

It is difficult to conclude categorically from the available data that smart phones are spreading faster than any previous technology. Statistics are not always available globally, and not every technology is easily tracked. Also, because smart phones have not yet reached market saturation, as electricity and television have, the results are still coming in.

Smart phones, after a relatively fast start, have also outpaced nearly any comparable technology in the leap to mainstream use. It took landline telephones about 45 years to get from 5 percent to 50 percent penetration among U.S. households, and mobile phones took around seven years to reach a similar proportion of consumers. Smart phones have gone from 5 percent to 40 percent in about four years, despite a recession. In the comparison shown, the only technology that moved as quickly to the U.S. mainstream was television between 1950 and 1953."

MP: How does this fit in with "The Great Stagnation" hypothesis? 


At 5/14/2012 5:04 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

it's not only the Smart Phones and Tablets.. it's the ubiquitous "apps" that are being developed that can save people time and money.

dual technology apps that utilize cellular internet combined with GPS are driving an avalanche of "location based services" that will change the way that business does business.

For instance, the "prime" locations for motels often was right at interchanges.

Now with smartphone apps - people can "find" motels further away and because the land they sit on is cheaper than the land at the interchanges - they can sell cheaper and still make higher profits.

At 5/14/2012 7:01 PM, Blogger james said...

I cannot believe the speed at which technology advances it's amazing. Cell Phones were still pretty new even twelve years ago. The stuff your getting and the stuff you can do on a cell phone today is beyond belief.

At 5/14/2012 7:26 PM, Blogger Marko said...

I think they are quickly penetrating because smart phones and tablets don't need new delivery infrastructure. Both rely on either existing broadband or cell phones. In that sense, they are not truly new technologies - just better ways of implementing the tech we already have.

At 5/14/2012 7:35 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Well I for one am also impressed...

Anyone have any idea what the future bandwidth requirements might be and where is it going to come from?

At 5/14/2012 8:58 PM, Blogger SteveH said...

"how does this fit in with the 'great stagnation'..."

Probably that the tech is just a communication device much like a rotary dial phone and that Tyler's grandmother saw more change in her life than he has seen in his. Besides only Mark Zuckerberg has benefited.

Others opined that they wanted their flying car.

At 5/14/2012 9:25 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Look for more-rapid technical innovation, in all fronts going forward. In addition to USA, now Europe, Japan, and Far East generating huge amounts of basic research and R&D.

The Internet speeds technical data and papers globally instantly, and makes finding same 100 times easier.

The problem with the global economy is a lack of demand, born of tight money. Japan is the harbinger of the global economy to come if central bankers cling to antique notions of proper monetary policy.

At 5/15/2012 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q: How does this fit in with "The Great Stagnation" hypothesis?

A: It doesn't, it blows a gaping hole in it. The '90s will be remembered technologically for the arrival of the internet, the '00s will be remembered for the mobile internet. Even my mom now rocks a Galaxy Note, a mammoth "phablet" that dwarfs the iPhone (rumor is that the iPhone 5 is going to get bigger to try and keep up). I regularly use video-conferencing software to talk to friends hundreds of miles away, something you couldn't really do on the slower computers and internet connections of a decade ago. The ultrabook I use for work is almost as thin and light as a tablet, but is more powerful than the giant pizza-box servers that powered most internet sites just 4 years ago. The "Great Stagnation" meme was fabricated to play to people's fears during this recession, just as there were plenty pushing rosy stories of how nothing was wrong in 2007. Both were wrong and perhaps the surest sign was how they just happened to fit the conventional wisdom and prevailing trends of the time.

At 5/15/2012 9:24 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

i think it has very little to do with any "great stagnation" hypothesis.

every technology has been faster than the last one for 50 years. it's a function of distribution, the speed with which manufacturing can be ramped up, modern advertising etc.

tv was faster than radio. color tv was faster than b+w. cell phones were faster than phones etc.

this is simply a feature of technology.

i think you try derive more from that than is there by trying to associate it with overall economic activity.

the 70's were a period of stagflation, yet color tv ownership exploded.

it's just not a big enough part of the picture to try to use to stand for the whole.

further, as a % of income/spending a smart phone is very cheap compared to many early technologies and is also being heavily subsidized by carriers which drives even more rapid adoption.

the smart phone may be the most heavily subsidized consumer product ever. carriers are generally picking up about 1/2 the price.

that alone makes using them as an economic yardstick pretty difficult.

At 5/15/2012 9:29 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

smartphones are changing the way tha business "works" though.

they are having significant impacts on business models...

I note that Facebook, for instance, recognizes that more and more subscribers are moving from laptop to phone to access FB and they say that they have yet to figure out how to monetize from mobile platforms.

At 5/15/2012 9:48 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/15/2012 9:50 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

morganovich states:

"the smart phone may be the most heavily subsidized consumer product ever. carriers are generally picking up about 1/2 the price."

Yes, it probably supersedes the safety razor/blade marketing model. The smartphone being the razor and the data plan the blade.

At 5/15/2012 12:13 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

gee I wonder if that business model would work for cars and gasoline?

You get the car for a heavy discount but then they nail you on the price of fuel!


Oh wait... we don't allow car companies to sell fuel also...

but phone problem..


At 5/15/2012 12:23 PM, Blogger morganovich said...


not as much as you might think.

carriers are way past the major profitability hump of subsidization especially given the costs of 3 and 4 g networks and the amount of data used by smartphones.

the european carriers are in numerous cases, eliminating smart phone subsidies.

if us carriers find themselves unable to keep raising prices, they will do the same.

it is no longer clear that the subsidies are helping them in terms of ultimate profit and this may change behavior.

At 5/15/2012 12:27 PM, Blogger morganovich said...


regardless, even if it is profitable for the carriers, this does not affect the argument that smartphone adoption has been greatly accelerated by subsidy.

at the full $699 "no commitment" price, there would be significantly fewer iphones and the adoption curve would be a great deal less cheap.

alternately, if tv stations had paid for half the price of your color tv back in the 70's, that would have made adoption more rapid, no?

thus, it's not really an apples to apples adoption curve comparison.

to compare a massively subsidized product to one where consumers paid full price seems a poor way to try to gauge the overall economy.

At 5/15/2012 12:34 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...


regardless, even if it is profitable for the carriers, this does not affect the argument that smartphone adoption has been greatly accelerated by subsidy."

Morgan, I absolutely agree.

At 5/15/2012 3:28 PM, Blogger rjs said...

just FYI: Australia, U.K., Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia and UAE each have more than 50 percent of their population on smartphones, more than the US

At 5/15/2012 3:46 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

I believe Smartphones will prove to be as significant as computerization itself proved to be.

and ultimately - phones will be $100 or less outright and data plans will be monthly.

You can get a Smartphone right now for less than $100 outright but they are down a notch from the screamers.

and several companies are offering month-by-month plans ... one Company, Consumer Cellular offers Sim cards so you can buy any compatible phone you like to use with their service.

but everything from electronic medical records, to finding an available parking space to making airline reservations is going to become the de-facto standard smartphone app.

this, in turn, will change, is already changing the way that business works...

As 4G starts rolling out across the country and Smartphones can also function as hot spots for lines are going the way of the do do bird.

There is a goldmine of opportunity for smartphone apps....

probably preaching to the choir here, eh?


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