Last updated: 14 August 2015
In this article we will provide an anecdotal observation of smartphone usage in Brazil.
Not a day goes by without some new statistics being published about smartphone usage in Brazil. These statistics often tend to hide many of the real insights to the usage of smartphones in the country.
How many Smartphone Users are there in Brazil?
As of the end of 2014 it was reported that there were around 71 million smartphone owners in Brazil. This number is probably correct but at the same time there is a gap between smartphone owners and smartphone users.
The reality is that it is increasingly difficult to find feature phones to buy in Brazil today. If you are able to find a feature phone, they tend to be only slightly cheaper than the cheapest smartphones.
Ironically, Brazilian smartphone buyers still tend to look for phones with the characteristics of feature phones. The most popular characteristics that a large number of buyers look for are:
- Quad-sim, that is 4 SIM cards
- Digital TV tuner to receive over-the-air signals for free
- FM Radio receiver
- Phones branded by a favourite football club
- GPS style mounting options
- Physical keyboards of all types
It is no surprise that all these “smartphones” are powered by Android. Although the owners of these devices are accounted for as smartphone owners in the statistics, they cannot really be defined as smartphone users. Most of the feature rich smartphones sold in Brazil have access to Google Play, but many users never create an account or install any apps beyond those that the carriers and OEM already offer bundled with the phone.
Media Consumption on Smartphones
Statistics suggest that one of the most popular uses of smartphones in Brazil is to consume media, either music or video. What the statistics fail to explain is the variety of sources that the media content is consumed from.
It is easy to think of streaming when you talk about the consumption of media content on smartphones, however many large consumers of media content in Brazil keep external flash memory with their content and select files with what they want to watch. The content is most likely pirated and can be anything from funk music videos to popular TV dramas. For viral and amateur videos, WhatsApp is also extremely popular as a streaming service.Independent commercial streaming services still have a limited penetration in Brazil but content based VAS services provided by the mobile operators have proven to be successful, especially for first time smartphone owners.
Texting on Smartphones
Brazilians love to text but the adoption of SMS never reached the same level as Europe or USA. Typically the SMS service plans have been fairly expensive in Brazil and some post-paid mobile plans do not have SMS services activated by default.
Texting is usually a task left to applications like Facebook, WhatsApp, Zapzap and Twitter. Some mobile operators even offer zero-rating options for WhatsApp, in a bet that when users first start using WhatsApp, they will move on to a contract mobile data plan in order to interact with external content that is shared on WhatsApp.
Beyond media and texting there are a few categories of mobile applications that do very well in Brazil.
The first category to highlight is the “consumer grad smart city” application, and this includes navigation applications like Waze as well as taxi hailing applications like 99Taxi, and urban bike rentals like Bike Sampa.
The second category is banking applications. Traditional internet banking in Brazil has universally provided a terrible user experience. With the constraints of a mobile device, the Brazilian banks got their act together and created mobile banking experiences that are actually easy to use. Even users with access to computers prefer to use the mobile banking apps as their primary interaction. Mobile banking is an area where we see a lot of innovation in Brazil at the moment, and well funded startups like NuBank are pushing the envelop in this area with mobile only real time experiences.
Mobile OS: Android, Windows, iOS…
Current statistics suggest that Android’s market share in Brazil is around 90%. This number might be correct but Android’s share of smartphone users are much lower.
While Brazilian consumers can very well buy an Android or even a Windows Phone based device without actually knowing what a smartphone is or what it can be used for, not a single iOS device is sold in Brazil without the user knowing exactly what they want.
The reality is that even with the iPhone 5c and other more affordable iOS alternatives, the iPhone still remains an option for the 1% wealthy Brazilians that live in urban areas like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. That said, 1% of Brazilian smartphone users adds up to a market size of an average European country.