Who are the mobile early adopters? Ammunition to help you cross the chasm

By | June 30, 2014

15 years ago, we lived in the “Internet bubble.” Anyone with a domain name who could eloquently sell the dream of vast riches could raise capital and start a company.

This was before terms like UX design, usability testing, growth hacking and social networks had become a part of the everyday lingo.

Today, we live in a new era of startups, incubators, accelerators and mild risk taking. Venture capitalists are cautious. They look for signs of traction before they invest in a company.

For startups, this creates a bit of a “chicken or the egg” situation, where one might feel that he needs financing to drive adoption, yet he’s required to demonstrate adoption before financing becomes available.

Although he has since recanted and says that it should be taken lightly, AngelList’s Ash Fontana has described what it takes to raise a Series A round of 1 million dollars in his $1M Round Milestone slide, and let’s just say that founders who make it there without any external financing deserve to be called superheroes.

Ever since Facebook became the phenomenon that it is, many startups focused on consumer products have adopted the philosophy that “if we build it, users will come, and cashflow will follow.”

Sadly, many are called but few are chosen.

The purpose of this paper is not to examine why few are chosen, but rather to provide insights into a critical group or users who can make or break your business: the early adopters.

A critical component of success in the web and software publishing world is understanding the Technology Adoption Lifecycle, and the role of that early adopters play in this lifecycle.


Crossing the chasm 

Crossing the chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers is a fantastic book written by Geoffrey A. Moore that talks about the “chasm”: the challenge of moving from early adopters to the early majority in the Technology Adoption Lifecycle.

Technology Adoption Lifecycle


I don’t want to paraphrase and you should definitely read this book if you are involved in the publication of disruptive technological products, but I’ll just say that Geoffrey’s proposed key to crossing the chasm is to become the clear leader amongst early adopters in your targeted niche.

This begs the question: who are these early adopters? How do I reach them? And what do they like?

This is the topic that I’ll be exploring in this eBook.


The following information is based on various sources. It was primarily mined from our internal database and compared to that of additional credible sources, such as Facebook Insights, Google Analytics and published data from various analytics companies.

You’ll notice that for the most part, I don’t reveal the exact source of the data and simply refer to them as “Source 1” and “Source 2”.

I have done this for two reasons:

  1. Obviously, not to reveal certain confidential information about our operations;
  1. Because I don’t want you to get too caught up in the source of the data.

The data presented here is by no means scientific nor guaranteed to be 100% accurate; instead, it should be considered anecdotal evidence based on our experience managing an international crowd of professional software testers.

Lastly, I have included at least two sources for each topic. I’ve done this to mitigate any possible errors in the data, and in some cases to highlight an interesting finding.


Software testing is a profession that is often overlooked or denigrated. The general public commonly perceives software testers to be youngsters who play video games all day. Nothing could be further from the truth.

However, this paper isn’t about glorifying the work of testers, but rather to look at early adopters. So why am I talking about software testers?

If you’ve ever set foot in a web development company or a video games company, you know that testers are some of the savviest, most passionate web and mobile consumers out there.

They generally know about new gadgets and new technologies before they are released because they are wired directly to TechCrunch, The Verge and IGN, waiting to be wowed by any new innovative product.

In 2013, we set out to build an international community of professional testers who could help web and software development companies publish better products. Less than a year later, our community comprises over 4,000 testers spanning across 100 countries and we are growing extremely fast.

The members of our community are extremely web-savvy and extremely proficient when it comes to mobile apps. The very nature of their work is to assess the quality of new interactive products.

What’s unique about testers is that most choose this profession because they love it. All of them are, by definition, early adopters.

Curating this community has generated a lot of data and given us unique insights into the mythical creature that is the early adopter. Today, we’re happy to share this data with you.

Hopefully, having a better understanding of who the early adopters are can help you conquer the chasm and elevate your business to new levels of success.

Early adopters are mostly men, but…

Let’s start by the gender.

We had initially assumed that hardcore early adopters, those who are constantly on the lookout for the latest mobile app or computer, were mostly men.

What we found is that we couldn’t be more wrong. Early adopters, in fact, are approximately 60% men and 40% women.

Early adopters by gender

Early adopters are not as young as you’d think

The next aspect we looked at was: how old is the early adopter?

Here we were surprised because we had fallen prey to stereotypes. We often think of early technology adopters as being somewhat young: in their early 20s, maybe.

We forget that those who are today crazy about gadgets and software are those who were born with the Nintendo and the Internet. Not to make you feel old but the Nintendo was released in North America in 1985 and Internet became mainstream in households in the early/mid 90s.

So how old does that make early adopters today?

Early adopters by age group

The key takeaway here is that you need a certain amount of disposable income to be an early adopter.

As a web or mobile publisher, when you’re attempting to engage passionate early adopters, you are effectively targeting young professionals, family men and women to some extent.

You’ll also notice that there are more early adopters who are older than 35 than there are below the age of 24.

Take a minute to reflect about what this means for your product.

Let’s talk mobile

Whether you’ve consciously thought about it or not, your company caters to mobile users. So what kind of smartphones are American early adopters using today?

smartphone OS in the US

And what about on a global scale?

Smartphones OS globally

Let’s stop for a minute and analyze this.

In the US, the competition between iOS and Android is fierce. But globally, there are much more Android users than there are iPhone users. Why?

The most obvious reason is that there are a large number of lower-end Android devices flooding the market. They are more affordable, often given for free by carriers to new users who agree to a 2-year monthly plan, and as such they are very common in developing countries.

The other noteworthy fact is the difference between the statistics provided by Source 1 and Source 2. In this case, Source 1 represents registered devices in our platform, and Source 2 represents visitors to our website.

So why are visits from iOS more significant than the number of registered iOS devices, and why are visits from Android devices less significant than the number of registered Android devices?

The answer is a little known secret that you should definitely keep in mind as a web or mobile publisher: iOS users browse more, they download more apps, and they consume much more data than Android users.

What about tablets?

Well, the competition is not exactly close.

Popular tablet OS globally

You’ll notice here again the difference between the values provided by Source 1 and Source 2. Again, it represents the difference between the number of registered devices (Source 1) and the number of visitors (Source 2.)

In laymen term, it’s the difference between those who own Android tablets, and those who use them. iPad owners clearly use their devices much more than their Android counterparts.

Just how early are those early adopters?

Popular smartphones globally

The chart above reveals the most popular smartphone models as of January 2014.

What’s interesting to see is that the most popular devices are not necessarily the newest devices on the market, (you’ll notice the 5s and 5c are missing) however they appear to be last year’s flagship devices.

Sadly charts don’t reveal the trends behind the numbers, but what we can say about trends today is that the Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5s, and the Nexus 5 are the strongest up and comers and they will certainly replace the declining Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4 in the next few months.

There are a number of factors as to why this year’s flagship devices are not performing as we’d expect: availability is probably a factor, but I would also point to the lack of perceived value in the technological improvement from one release to the next.

It is my humble opinion that the incentives to switch from an iPhone 5 to a 5s, or from a Galaxy S3 to an S4 are simply not appealing enough, even for early adopters.

What we are seeing is a trend where early adopters change phones every 2 years.

I know what you’re wondering.

You’re thinking: “but Simon, you said above that Android phones were more popular than iPhones, so why does the iPhone occupy the top 3 spots?”

The reason is that Android users are spread across a much wider range of devices.

If you take 100 iOS users and look at the devices they possess, it looks like this:

iOS fragmentation

The beautiful thing about this situation is that when you publish a mobile app for iOS, you have only 3 devices to worry about, with a 4th that’s slowly climbing up the chart.

However if you take 100 Android users and look at the devices they possess, it looks like this:

Android fragmentation


What this means is that it’s much more difficult to ensure that every Android user has a flawless experience with your mobile app given the disparities between all these devices.

This phenomenon is known as fragmentation. It is the source of many developers’ nightmares and most likely the reason why apps crash on your Android phone if you have one.

I’m not even going to approach the subject of the disparities between the many versions of Android OS – that could be to topic of another eBook in itself.

How do early adopters use their phones?

So know you know the sex, the age and the phones of the early adopters.

Let’s look at how early adopters use their phones.

Compiling data from over 18,000 sessions, what we found is that the average session lasts approximately 2 minutes 10 seconds.

For the purpose of this exercise, a session is defined as starting when the user unlocks his phone, to the moment the display is shut off.

2 minutes and 10 seconds. That’s not a very long time.

It’s enough to play one or two levels of Angry Birds, maybe to send an email or respond to a text message, but it’s definitely not enough for an exhaustive shopping session during which a user would compare the details of several items and shop for better prices on a competitor’s site.

To give you better idea, sessions over 600 seconds (10 minutes) accounted for less than 3% of all sessions.

In reality this number is probably even lower, as the data included a number of extremely long session from users that most likely had disabled automatic locking and left their phone to charge overnight.

How all this data ties together

Now that you are familiar with the big picture, let’s talk about what this means for your business, whether you are a startup, an established mobile app publisher or a humble website operator.

The number one factor you should consider when building a new website or mobile app is not the technology or the graphic design, it’s the user.

The key to crossing the chasm is to delight early adopters with a fantastic experience in such a way that they’ll become evangelists for your product.

Now you know that these early adopters are both men and women, and that they are predominantly between 25 and 34, try to think about what the typical 30 years old looks for in a website or mobile app. Is it convenience, ease of use, quality, entertainment, or all of the above?

Also think about the context in which users will use your product.

Are they at home, in front of the TV, or at the grocery store, picking up dinner for their family?

Do they use their mobile devices for long sessions or in short bursts?

Do they prefer the desktop computers for researching expensive purchases, or are they comfortable doing so on their mobile phones while commuting to work on a crowded bus?

Try to plan a deployment strategy around devices that represent a significant user base. Start with an iOS application, and focus on the top 4 devices.

Maybe next you can build a responsive website to track your visitors and identify the most popular Android devices in your specific market, and focus on those when you release an Android application.

But most importantly, remember to test your product before presenting it to early adopters. With so many websites and applications competing for their attention, you won’t get a second chance if your product isn’t stellar on the first try.