Does the US Lag on Technology Adoption?

The US may be home to mammoth technology brands like Apple, Amazon, Intel, and Google, but when it comes to adopting new media technology, it's running behind other countries.

In fact, the US doesn't even make the top 10 countries in ZenithOptimedia's recently released New Media Forecasts study of 19 advanced markets and new media technology adoption. It currently lags Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and South Korea, and will stay behind for at least the next few years, noted several media reports, including this one.

ZenithOptimedia found that Western Europe leads globally when it comes to the adoption of new media technology. Norway, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark were the top five countries that more rapidly adopted new media technology last year; the US was 12th on the list, based on overall penetration rates.

Hip no more: The US is no longer as tech-savvy as most of the world likes to believe it is.

Hip no more: The US is no longer as tech-savvy as most of the world likes to believe it is.

And falling…
By 2015, the US — despite its wealth and stronger economic growth — could fall to No. 14, behind many European countries and places like Israel and China. ZenithOptimedia blames this predicted slip on high subscription prices slowing down the uptake of smartphones.

In broader terms, overall smartphone penetration — the most popular device in the study — will double from 36 percent in 2012 to 72 percent in 2015, tablet penetration will increase by 177 percent, and Internet Protocol television (IPTV) penetration will jump by 36 percent between 2012 and 2015, according to the firm.

(A methodology note: ZenithOptimedia says it “identified the top 19 digital markets across the world, ranked according to a combination of absolute size and percentage of total adspend taken by Internet expenditure. It then examined how consumers in these markets use digital media; how Internet advertising, social media and e-commerce are developing, and how quickly new media technologies are being adopted.”)

You could argue that the US is a mature market, and maybe the country already has a lot of smartphone and tablet users. That's true, to some extent. How many people do you know in the US who still use feature phones? And what kid or teenager didn't want an iPad for Christmas?

“Mature-market” problem
But, ZenithOptimedia's numbers tell a different story. And, it's in another mature market — Western Europe — where most of the growth is predicted to come from for the next few years.

For instance, Norway — No. 1 in the 2012 ranking — reported an average 38.8 percent penetration rate for the three technologies cited above. The US had 19.4 percent penetration on these same platforms. Even on the smartphone scale, where one thinks US penetration should be higher by now given all the hype, the US's penetration of 35.3 percent was dwarfed by countries like Sweden, which had an adoption rate of 73 percent.

So, despite a common belief, maybe the US isn't as tech-savvy as most of the world likes to believe it is. If I worked at one of the OEMs making these new technology devices, I would take a closer look at what's behind these stats.

I don't think these numbers in and of themselves are something that will cause companies to rethink how they sell consumer electronics in the US market or elsewhere, and I doubt if design engineers and supply chain managers will be turning their current new product development strategies upside down because a new report came out.

Refresh button?
If nothing else, though, the report highlights that the US certainly may not be the end-all-be-all market for higher consumer electronics sales, and it may not, broadly speaking across the entire country (not just in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley) even be a trendy, tech leader who's citizens are going gaga over whatever new device hits the market.

Of course, many electronics companies bet on the US consumer market for some amount of predicted sales growth, and perhaps, rightfully so given the country's large population base; a small percentage of US consumers adopting any given technology influences revenue growth much more than a large adoption curve in, say, a smaller, less populated country like Denmark.

Still, I can't help but think the electronics supply chain would benefit from hitting the refresh button and looking at which countries are not trending now but leap-frogging ahead.

3 comments on “Does the US Lag on Technology Adoption?

  1. Brian Fuller
    February 20, 2013

    I'd be interested to see that study examine the U.S.'s adoption of embedded technologies for the supply chain. I think we understand sort of viscerally that Americans–at least Americans older than say 30 or 40–have a love-hate relationship with consumer electronics technologies.

    I suspect that in the supply chain the U.S. may not be No. 1 in tech adoption but it's not far behind.

    Anyone ever see such a study? 

  2. _hm
    February 21, 2013

    It may be that US is more divided in to two distinct classes – Poor/lower middle class and rich/upper middle class. Technology adoption in latter class will be very high and should be comparable to Europe or better. But low income class people in US may struggle to adopt to this ever changing technology devices. This is true in general for quality of life for low income group.


  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 21, 2013

    In my opinion the American consumer is more mature in terms of the sage of technology. So there is no blind trasnition to the latest available gadjet if there is still a good value for the older technology.

    I guess, even in today's scenario where almost evry month new tablets and smart phones are flooding the markets , there are still some Americans who are proudly sticking to their old desktops and feature phones just because they serve their purpose and not because they cannot afford the new hi tech products.

    In the third world countries the consumers are less knowledgeable about the technology behind a product and more taken by the Ads and marketing and in that process throw away -still useful – prodcuts to embrace the latest just as a fashion -sometimes.

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