The country will hit 530 million smartphone users by 2018, behind China's 1.3 billion but ahead of the US figure of 229 million, a latest analysis finds. In 2018, 66 per cent of people across 52 countries will own a smartphone, up from 63 per cent in 2017 and 58 per cent in 2016, according to Zenith's 'Mobile Advertising Forecasts 2017' report, published recently. The US-based analysis firm found that the top three countries in terms of smartphone usage will remain broadly the same as the market matures around the world. The country with the highest number of smartphone users will remain China, with 1.3 billion users, followed by India, with 530 million users. The US will be third, with 229 million users. The rapid expansion of smartphone ownership across the world, which has transformed the way that advertisers communicate with consumers, is slowing down as penetration reaches between 80 and 90 per cent in the most advanced markets. The number of smartphone owners will increase by 7 per cent year on year in 2018, compared to 10 per cent growth in 2017, 14 per cent in 2016 and 21 per cent in 2015. While the more advanced markets hit saturation point, countries like India hold the maximum growth potential which in turn makes the market attractive to advertisers keen to target the country's booming middle class. Jonathan Barnard, Zenith's Head of Forecasting and Director of Global Intelligence, said: “For most consumers and advertisers, the mobile internet is now the normal internet. The ownership of mobile devices is beginning to saturate in some markets, but there's plenty of room for further growth across the rest of the world.” The spread of smartphones and other mobile devices is increasing the number of contacts between brands and consumers, by giving consumers new opportunities to connect to media content wherever they are, at any time in the day. Some of these contacts take the form of paid advertising in third-party content, but mobile technology is also enabling broader brand experiences, such as branded content and social media engagement. Western Europe and Asia Pacific continue to lead the world in smartphone ownership. Zenith predicts that five markets will have smartphone penetration above 90 per cent in 2018: the Netherlands (94 per cent), Taiwan (93 per cent), Hong Kong (92 per cent), Norway and Ireland (each at 91 per cent). As many as 11 markets will have penetration levels between 80 per cent and 90 per cent, all of them in Western Europe and Asia Pacific with the exception of Israel, where penetration will be 86 per cent. It also highlights that tablet ownership is much less common than smartphone ownership, partly because they are more likely to be shared within households, and partly because consumers in some markets prefer to use larger smartphones instead. Tablets have not caught on at all in China, where the estimated their penetration is just 4.8 per cent this year, compared to 85.4 per cent for smartphones. In countries like Thailand, tablet penetration is in fact declining. Tablet ownership varies widely across the 52 countries in the report; it exceeds 50 per cent in 12 markets, and is lower than 10 per cent in seven. Tablet ownership is most common in the Netherlands (74 per cent), Australia (66 per cent) and Ireland (65 per cent). Globally, the analysis estimates tablet penetration at 18.7 per cent this year, up slightly from 17.8 per cent in 2016. It appears to be stabilising at about 20 per cent: with forecasts of penetration levels of 19.5 per cent in 2018 and 20.1 per cent in 2019. Mobile devices (including both smartphones and tablets) are now the primary means of accessing the internet for most users, and will account for 73 per cent of time spent using the internet in 2018, up from 70 per cent in 2017 and 65 per cent in 2016. Mobile internet use has doubled since 2011, when it accounted for 36 per cent of all internet use. By 2019, this is expected to account for 76 per cent. The amount of money spent on internet ads going to mobile ads has overtaken the amount spent on desktop ads for the first time this year. The report estimates that 53 per cent of all internet ad spend will go to ads viewed on mobile devices in 2017, and the forecast shows that the proportion will rise to 59 per cent in 2018 and 62 per cent in 2019. In 2019, mobile ad spend will total $156 billion, and account for 26 per cent of ad spend across all media. Vittorio Bonori, Zenith's Global Brand President, said: “Because the internet is now mobile, brands have the opportunity to use it to communicate to consumers during more of their lives - when they are shopping, socialising and travelling as well as when at their desk. “By reaching consumers at the right occasions with tailored messages, brands can guide them through the consumer journey more effectively.” The 52 countries covered by the definitive annual report included Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK and the US - which collectively represent 65 per cent of the world's population.