Report: The World Is Basking in the Light of Glowing Rectangles

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"Americans spend the vast majority of each day staring at, interacting with, and deriving satisfaction from glowing rectangles," The Onion reported in 2009. Three years later, the fake newspaper story isn't so fake.

A new Google report shared with The Atlantic found that 75% or more of the adult population in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan own a smartphone and computer. The results are summed up in the table below.

google smartphone survey japan.png




The upshot is that if the developed world stares at glowing rectangles all day, the function of those rectangles vary as we hop around the globe.

For example, the UK leads the world in smartphone adoption, with nearly half of its consumers walking around with mini-computers in their pockets, according to Google. But in Japan, where a whopping 96% of adults own an advanced cell phone, although only 17% own what Google considers a true "smart phone," such as an iPhone or Galaxy Nexus.

Japan is a specific case, Google analysts told me, where the vast majority of consumers own what Google calls a "high-specification feature phone. Such devices might have GPS or music capabilities, but they lack a full Internet browser or touchscreens. These "relatively-smart" phones, while super popular in Japan, are practically non-existent in the other countries Google studied.

The real eye-grabber is in the gaming device category, where Japan holds a commanding lead. Home to Sony, Nintendo and other makers of popular gaming consoles, Japan is perhaps the world's leading market in gaming. Consider that in 2010, Japan had bought as many PlayStation Portable (PSP) devices as the United States, despite having only 40 percent of our population. On top of that, Nintendo sold 4 million 3DS consoles within Japan in eight months ... nearly as many iPads as the Apple sold in its first eight months in the United States.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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