Skype today published data from a recent Zobgy survey that, aside from demonstrating smartphone users’ desire to control their own phone configuration, demonstrates that a significant majority of users in the four countries surveyed (U.S., U.K., Japan and Spain) simply are still not perceiving the potential for a mobile phone handset to be considered as having additional use beyond simply making voice calls.
While I am receiving feedback from acquaintances who are saying their BlackBerry Bold or 8900 Curve has become their mobile computer (reinforcing my own experience) the survey results conclude:
- over 62% of the survey respondents do not perceive their mobile device as an extension of their computer.
- Over 70% have never downloaded an application to their mobile phone.
What this survey really says is that awareness of the smartphone as a mobile computing device is still quite weak amongst the general public, especially in North America. Secondary to this finding are the results showing:
- Only 23% feel that they have more or the same level of control over their mobile device as they have over their computer.
- 67% want to be able to choose their mobile applications for themselves, rather than have their carriers choose for them.
Of course consumers want choice; the real issue here becomes the legacy microcomputer user issue of balancing:
- how much guidance does a vendor (carrier, PC manufacturer, smartphone vendor) provide driving users to “supported” or “authorized” applications against
- how aware is the consumer that they can actually have “freedom to choose” when it comes to not only smartphone applications but also personal computing applications.
The major difference from the early Windows 95 days of wanting to be on the Windows desktop and wanting to be immediately available on a smartphone is that the carrier, not the operating system developer, approves the user interface and smartphone configuration that is available on purchase of the computing device.
We have since seen the disappearance of “pre-configured” Windows desktop applications (how many PC’s have I installed over the past 15 years where I removed the AOL application?) with more practices such as the Dell Vostro line of business PC’s providing a minimal number of pre-installed desktop applications supporting use of the PC itself and no third party applications. It has become the responsibility of the individual third party developers to generate market awareness and adoption on a PC platform.
The Apple iPhone started this trend within the smartphone consumer market. A basic iPhone has the necessary applications to use the phone for voice calls and text messaging along with a minimal number of third party applications such as Google Maps and Facebook. From this starting point, the user can then use the iPhone App store to choose applications that find the nearest Starbucks, tell you when the next TTC streetcar is coming, deliver the Toronto Globe and Mail or turn your iPhone into a musical instrument. No carrier control, no carrier revenue; over 20,000 applications available.
When looking at the BlackBerry, one again finds that it comes with a set of basic applications that support communications, either voice or text (including several IM applications). Users have long been able to add applications either via stores such as Handango with 1800 applications for the Bold, Crackberry App Store or a wide range of enterprise-specific applications. Today my BlackBerry can follow Twitter and Facebook via SocialScope, deliver my cable TV service to the device anywhere worldwide, make Skype calls via iSkoot or IM+ for Skype, follow the news on NY Times, Wall Street Journal or CNN (Globe and Mail, where are you?), stream video to the Internet (Qik) and use any Google service (Maps, News, Reader, Search, Sync, etc.).
The ability to download user-selected applications is here (certainly on my Rogers Wireless service). The real issue is that North Americans need to be made more aware of the potential of a smartphone to deliver value-added services and information. Only at that point will there be sufficient pent-up consumer demand to “free up the smartphone” from today’s level of carrier control.
According to the report the Spanish and Japanese “get it”; probably other European countries where the level of carrier control of applications is much less than in North America also get it. The survey found almost twice as many Spanish have downloaded applications and perceive their mobile devices as an extension of their computing experience. When the awareness is there, the demand for user freedom to choose their applications and smartphone configuration will arise.
The bottom line:
- General awareness of mobile smartphones as more than a voice calling device still needs to be promoted heavily by both application developers and smartphone vendors
- Users perceive that they would want to have control over their smartphone applications if they know there is an huge range of non-telephony applications available.
- the younger generation will drive adoption through their personal social networks, in turn, making older generations aware of what can be done with a smartphone.
- Developers still need to market their applications, emphasizing the user experience, beyond simply having them available on the iPhone App Store or BlackBerry App World.
All it takes is for an individual to find one Starbucks, watch one television program remotely, see a live video of the grandchildren, read one time sensitive news report, have one business success story or make a free international Skype call via iSkoot or other Skype-enabled application to drive awareness amongst a broader public. In the end it’s all about demonstrating the satisfaction that results from an engaging user experience to build the necessary awareness.
Om Malik says “As Mobile Data Grows, People Want Wireless Carriers To Buzz Off”.
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