Overwhelming Number Of Smartphone Users Keep Location Services Open

Nine in 10 US smartphone owners use location services on their phone. But eMarketer says there's still room to grow.

Roughly 90 percent of people keep the location services function on their smartphones switched to “on,” says eMarketer, citing research by the Pew Research Center. And despite ongoing privacy concerns, eMarketer is confident that number is not done rising.

The digital marketplace analysts estimates the number of smartphone users will jump 8.7 percent this year. In addition, the number of those who use location-based services is expected to rise at a near-equal pace, eMarketer says.

Considering consumers’ reliance on smartphones for directions and satisfying an immediate impulse need for a restaurant or clothing store, Pew’s survey compared the 90 percent of participants who reported using location services versus those who used their phones to stream music (67 percent) or for video chats (47 percent) or to watch entertainment (one-third).

“But how many people does 90 percent [of location services users] equate to? A back-of-the-envelope estimate based on Pew’s finding and eMarketer’s 2015 smartphone user forecast puts the number at 153 million,” the analyst group says.

“This group, like smartphone users as a whole, are likely to rely on apps, many of which request access to the devices’ location services,” eMarketer notes, estimating that 96 percent of US smartphone users will regularly use apps on their phone in 2016.

The Pew survey and eMarketer’s analysis would seem to contradict other reports about consumers’ location services usage. In a study released last October by location analytics specialist Skyhook Wireless, app users demonstrated a disconnect when it came to their smartphones’ location services.

While 83 percent told Skyhook that location services are “crucial” to their mobile experiences, more than half of weather and navigation app users said they don’t keep their devices’ geo signals turned on.

For the most part, app developers, publishers, and marketers need to give consumers a clear, desirable reward for sharing their location. For example, Skyhook found that consumers are very likely to use location when they access a weather app, while only 16 percent of consumers have the geo function switched on for when they open a news app.

eMarketer acknowledges the Skyhook study, reiterating that the idea of location services usage goes hand-in-hand with utility.

“Granted, the value exchange for sharing location with a weather app is obvious to the user, with not much explanation or persuasion needed,” eMarketer says. “That’s not the case with apps in other categories, however. Often location-based content, services or features are tangential to the core value proposition of the app, as is the case with some traditional social networking apps, for example. A minority share (38 percent) of those polled in the study said they shared their location with social networking apps.”

In addition to offering utility, helping lead consumers by the hand also encourages the use of location services. And as the world becomes more mobile, users’ interests are becoming more local — and therefore, more reliant on geo-based tools.

That helps explain why Google says that smartphone queries for  “near me” searches are up 146 percent year-over-year. Of course, the auto-completion in the search bar for “near me” has certainly helped nudge consumers in that direction. But as consumers expect that kind of help, the need to keep location services set to “open” does lend greater credence to eMarketer’s confidence that the 90 percent who now have their geo-tools turned on will increase.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.