I keep hearing MR is restricted to smartphones and that’s why mobile has not gone mainstream in research. Before getting into the issue of this being Myth or Fact, it is important to first define what a smartphone is. The term smartphone is arguably the most misused mobile terminology today. This is largely because no clear definition exists and the goal posts set for a smart phone keep shifting. I have tried to segregate the more visible evolution of the definition of the smartphone below for a better understanding :
- Up to 2005 : any phone with a color screen was considered “smart”
- 2005 – 2007 : it was anything with a camera
- 2007+ : it was any phone which could access GPRS, and more recently it’s been 3G enabled and business phones.
With the Blackberry’s success in the enterprise segment its smartphone definition was initially drawn from its secure push mail system. So are all phones used for business smart? Android based phones and also the established players like Nokia, LG, SE, Samsung, etc offering full feature phones across price points blur the lines of smart phones even further. All these definitions are very fluid and do not really describe or define where the “dumb” phone ends and the” smart” phone begins. So what does a real smartphone look like? The answer is more to do with what we want to use it for or “is it smart enough” for what we want it for (in our case MR).
Definition available at Wikipedia.org:
“A smartphone is a mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a basic ‘feature phone’. While some feature phones are able to run simple applications based on generic platforms such as Java ME or BREW, a smartphone allows the user to install and run much more advanced applications based on a specific platform. Smartphones run complete operating system software providing a platform for application developers.
Growth in demand for advanced mobile devices boasting powerful processors, abundant memory, larger screens and open operating systems has outpaced the rest of the mobile phone market for several years. According to a study by ComScore, in 2010, over 45.5 million people in the United States owned smartphones and it is the fastest growing segment of the mobile phone market, which comprised of 234 million subscribers in the United States. “
From a MR stand point, these smartphone numbers are also highly questionable and restrictive. So what should a smart phone look like from a Market Researcher’s perspective? The answer is more to do with what we want to use it for or “is it smart enough” for what we want it for. For research to get the best out of mobiles, the “smart enough” approach is a much better way to look at it.
If we want to reach our target audience, we should go out and reach them irrespective of the phone they use. The debate about penetration of mobile phones has all but died out. Now it’s about how to target these consumers. Where targeted consumers own homogenous OS phones; e.g. a study amongst young working women in tier 1 metros (say NYC) and all almost all this target uses Blackberries/iPhones the task gets relatively simple. However for general population studies the range of handsets that need to be covered could be across phone types, screen resolutions and multiple OS environments.
Designing mobile studies and surveys will have to keep all this diversity of phones in mind while formulating execution plans. A simple smart vs dumb definition won’t work. Certain universal protocols like WAP or SMS can be considered but will lose out given their limitations. Given the improved mobile technology and value added services offering rich mobile content and services that consumers have access to today, to be appealing mobile MR needs to have very high production values from an aesthetic, relevance, appeal and engagement perspective.
Coming back to the smart enough definition, we have seen for some studies which use Videos or Photos to be sent to or received from respondents [i.e. used in Mobile Blogging and TVC Ad & Print Ad testing / evaluations]. Both the above mobile MR applications tools must be dynamic and allow the moderator / researcher to change questions, videos or photos on the fly via a Web-based control interface. These changes done on the control interface get reflected in real time in the applications on the respondents’ phone. For these solutions to work of course we need the phones to be smart enough – in this case to be able to show videos and photos. While video play function is slowly growing to be a standard in most phones, the camera function has already become a standard. In today’s handset environment coupled with the development capabilities available, mobile market research solutions cover all handsets & OSs in the market. This puts to rest the assumption that researchers need to restrict themselves to a set of phones / smartphones to successfully run mobile MR studies.
If one compares the requirements of market research to the gaming or mobile marketing industries, I am happy to share our requirements are quite basic! This ideally means our adoption should be much better than the gaming or the mobile marketing industries. Unfortunately I haven’t seen evidence of that – but let’s leave that for another blog post!