What features prompt feature phone users to upgrade to a smartphone that typically costs around 4x as much? Twenty-four percent of mobile phone owners who responded to a Mintel survey said they replace their device at least every other year. The availability of 4G, video calling, large screens and GPS were the top four features cited by adult smartphone consumers in the U.S., according to the a Mashable report on recent Mintel surveys.

Mintel also looked at where U.S. adult mobile phone owners are purchasing their phones and found that they’re increasingly buying them online. Just over 32% of respondents said they had purchased their mobile phones online as of March 2010 as compared to the 27.7% that said so in the year earlier survey, a gain of 4.6 percentage points.

Carrier-direct sales from retailers including Walmart and Best Buy accounted for 67.7% of mobile phone purchases as of March 2010, a decline of 2% while sales at Web-only e-tailers, including eBay and Amazon, accounted for 11.2%, a 2.2% gain.

Mintel researchers found two reasons for the shift to e-commerce: the best promotions were found online, and customers found it more convenient than going to a retail outlet and waiting online. The bricks-and-mortar outlets are also benefiting from the trend, however. Online mobile phone sales are growing on their own sites, as well.

Confirming results of numerous other surveys, Apple’s  iPhones and devices that run on Google’s Android mobile operating system are the most popular with mobile phone customers. Mintel found that those 18-34 were more likely to own an Android phone, those 25-34 an iPhone and those over 35 a BlackBerry. When it came to the mobile phone they said they wanted, nearly every age group said an iPhone, except those 55 and up, most of whom said they wanted an Android smartphone.

Smartphones are definitely moving into the mainstream and Mintel expects the trend to continue, but there’s an opportunity to attract new customers among older Americans, Mintel found. Older consumer, particularly Baby Boomers over 55, are more likely to be uninterested in upgrading to a smartphone. Mintel sees this as a huge opportunity for marketers.

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