TOKYO: Smartphone ownership is growing rapidly in Japan, fuelled by younger consumers' desire to access online social networks, new analysis has established.

Smartphone market penetration has risen from 27.7% in 2012 to 41.7% in 2013, according to estimates from eMarketer, which also predicts ownership will rise to 60.2% in 2014.

By 2017, it is expected that ownership will increase to 70.3% of the population, or 88.9m people, representing 79.9% of all mobile phone users.

Japanese consumers have resisted switching to smartphones until recently, partly because the internet capabilities already offered by feature phones were relatively advanced, but the new devices are increasingly winning over younger users.

Hakuhodo, the Tokyo-based advertising and PR firm, polled more than 7,000 internet users in June 2013 and found market penetration was significantly higher among younger populations.

It found smartphone ownership among all internet users stood at 46.1%, but this rose to more than three-quarters of those aged 15 to 19 and over 70% of those aged between 20 and 29.

Younger smartphone users were also more likely to rely entirely on their devices to access online social networks with 40.1% of those aged 15 to 19 only using smartphones for this purpose.

This compared to 33.9% of users aged 20 to 29 and 16.1% among those aged 30 to 39.

Despite their popularity among younger Japanese, smartphones are also being taken up by older generations with ownership among users aged between 60 and 69 now standing at almost 20%.

In a separate survey conducted by Japanese researchers, the Mobile Marketing Data Lab, the Apple iPhone emerged as by far the preferred smartphone brand for feature phone users seeking to upgrade.

The poll found 56.4% of respondents named the iPhone as their preferred brand, followed by Sharp's Aquos phone on 24.5% and Samsung's Galaxy on 23%.

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content by Warc staff