Global Device Ownership at 2016 Year’s End

In all my years of studying the technology industry, I’ve always found it more helpful to know installed bases of devices, platforms, apps, etc., vs looking at what is selling in terms of market share in any given quarter. Just focusing on sales share of hardware products per quarter is a deceiving statistic when looked at in isolation. We orient our research and data gathering around understanding how many people own what and what exactly they are doing with the technology they own. For this reason, I’d like to end 2016 by giving you a big picture view of the technology landscape in terms of ownership. Below is a chart of global consumers, broken out by age, and what percentage each tech category is owned.


The above chart is comprised of a global representative sample size of just over 30,000 consumers. It highlights some of the nuances within demographics but PC and smartphone ownership remains the largest piece of the pie. Once we understand the global picture of device ownership, we can more easily understand the behavioral patterns we see with software and services.

An important point is none of these categories are seeing stellar growth. We are, for the most part, hitting a peak in these categories and many are moving to replacement cycle market. Undoubtedly, a key debate will remain of the products on the far right of the chart with smart watches and fitness bands. My opinion, having sifted through the piles of data we have on those categories, is the market is simply not that large. This opinion will remain so long as their main value proposition is tied to fitness, as is the case today. If over the course of the next 4-5 years the value proposition evolves, then we can adjust our market sizing approach accordingly.

At the moment, I’m not sure if smart headphones (like the AirPods) will make their way into the tracking category of wearables, although you could make a case they should. The wearable category will undoubtedly expand into many things beyond just fitness bands and smart watches. However, those are the only two things selling in any kind of volume right now. One thing to watch in early 2017 will be the retail category growth. In the 2015 holiday season, the wearable category was up over 100% growth annually and the only real category of growth at retail. I’m not going to make any predictions but there is a good chance that category is low single digits to negative growth this holiday season. The data we will get will not include Apple retail, which would unquestionably change the number.

To look at another source, note this chart from Deloitte, specifically on the US market:


PCs are not shown here but, if they were, they would be mostly flat. Interestingly, tablet access increased, as did both smart watches and fitness bands. I’m using the word access here because their question was not purely ownership but also access. Which is relevant for categories like the tablet and VR, for example, which could be shared. I’d be comfortable saying the smart watch and fitness bands are “ownership” points since they are personal and not shared products. A noteworthy point though is, just because they say they have access, it doesn’t mean it is used daily. So I’m not sure I’d bet that active daily usage of things like tablets or fitness bands is entirely reflected here. We know fitness bands do still have some abandonment issues but it is not nearly as bad as it once was.

This study was taken at the end of August and we are running a device ownership study in January. We will see what the holiday season brings to the mix of ownership. I’d bet VR goes up but probably not significantly. So will Bluetooth/wireless headphones, which trended very well in our intent to buy study for this holiday season.

Knowing what technology people own and use is a key part of knowing the market. As we look at multi-deivce homes, specifically ones where smartphones, tablets, and PCs are owned, we see some dramatic differences in usage behavior. The key part of this analysis is to build a broader thesis on how likely these scenarios are to become more common. If so, then we can expect some fairly dramatic behavioral changes in the market which will lead to opportunities that are less obvious today. More on that to come in 2017.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

4 thoughts on “Global Device Ownership at 2016 Year’s End”

  1. Very nice data, and I think your statement that “the market is simply not that large” is very important. So much so that maybe we need to rethink what we mean by “tech category”.

    For example, is the Amazon Dash Button a “tech device”? Is a Phillips Hue Light?

    I try to think of what problem tech devices try to solve. Productivity, communication, education, shopping, advertising, etc. How willing are people to spend an increasing portion of their hard-earned wages on these segments? You also have to add monthly mobile data fees, which are extremely high in the US and Japan. I tend to think that we have approached a limit, simply because people historically haven’t spent too much money on these things.

    Therefore, what I think will be interesting in 2017 and beyond, will be to see gadgets that solve totally new problems that humans have, and towards which people have historically spend large sums of money. Gadgets that solve health issues (not fitness), housing, transportation, finance, education, etc. Current tech gadgets do provide some solutions to these markets, but I think there is a lot more to do, and this is where we people will ultimately be willing to spend.

    1. “For example, is the Amazon Dash Button a “tech device”? Is a Phillips Hue Light?”
      This is me being humble, but only because it’s you… 🙂

      If it uses science to improve a product, it’s “tech” regardless if it’s medicine, silicon, or toilet paper. The rest is marketing.

      Is biotech, not “tech”? Are improvements in growing, harvesting, and pulp making not tech? Silicone valley needs to get their heads out of their posterior.

      Cranial Rectosis can be lethal!

      1. Yes. I’m actually surprised that in the whole discussion of IoT and home automation, there hasn’t been any mention of the high-tech toilet seats that are ubiquitous in Japan. The ones that have proximity sensors so that their lids open when people approach, shower your butt with warm water, automatically flush when you stand up, etc. Maybe these devices could use AI to predict when you might want to go to the bathroom, or they might be better with Amazon Echo integration (“Alexa, clean my butt!”). If you have multiple toilets in your home, you might even ask Echo, “Which toilet is open right now?”. Very convenient when your whole family is rushing in the morning.

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