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Top 10 Key Mobile Facts For Market Research

Children using smartphones


By Edward Appleton

Mobile is arguably “the” hot topic of the moment in Market Research, with some, notably Vision Critical’s Ray Poynter, saying that it has already arrived as a major force in data collection, no longer qualifying for the tag “the next big thing”.

Figures from the recent GRIT 2013 study suggest that adaption is moving ahead: 27% of participants stated they were using mobile in quant. research, 19% in qualitative – with Y.O.Y shifts of +4% and +2% respectively. Compare this with global penetration levels of mobile – likely around the 85% – 90% rates – MR usage is still modest.

There is also a notable difference suggested in the GRIT survey in the levels of Agencies claiming usage of mobile – notably higher – than clients.

My sense is that MR has been as surprised by the rapidity of mobile adoption as many other industries and is in catch-up mode: looking to better understand what works best on a mobile device, the rules of engagement.

It’s something I have spent a few months looking at, talking to experts that I know in the field, exploring a number of issues:

  • what is good mobile MR practice
  • what types of research is mobile well suited to
  • what constitutes a good mobile research user experience
  • what is holding the switch back to mobile

I’ll be publishing the interviews in the coming two weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

In the meantime, and as an introduction, I have pulled together a selection of statistics aiming to give a snapshot on mobile usage across the globe – data that are hopefully of relevance to “the Researcher”.

The list is by no means exhaustive, aiming more to highlight what to me is interesting, counter-intuitive even. It avoids detail on technology, marketing and advertising developments.

1. Mobile Penetration Levels

The average level of mobile device ownership in 21 countries across the globe was 87% as measured in a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Survey*. The highest level of penetration was 94% (Jordan), the lowest Pakistan (52%) – still more than half that population. Mobile – global? Yes, increasingly so.

A look at mobile with internet access usage reveals marked differences between the developed and developing world. Of the 21 countries measured, an average of only 21% of the population (or 26% of cellphone owners) used the device to access the internet. The Delta was from 48% in the UK (Gen Popl./ highest) to 2% in Pakistan (Gen. Pop/ lowest).

*(Source: Pew Research,

The digital divide is currently alive and kicking. This is confirmed by other data sources. The average penetration level of mobile broadband in developed countries is currently estimated at 75% for 2013, in developing countries at 20%, according to data from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union/ ITU –

Companies aiming for a consistent approach in global mobile MR need  to use simple mobile survey types – not internet-enabled – as they are the only option currently offering true global coverage.

2. Growth rates

Overall growth in mobile usage is currently still strong but flattening off, as saturation levels are reached. Mobile broadband subscriptions, however, are still growing extremely rapidly. Figures from mobile manufacturer Ericsson state that global mobile subscriptions are currently growing +7% YoY.

Mobile broadband subscriptions are growing far faster at +40% YoY. (Source: Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2013 –

For those interested in a historical perspective, mobile’s strongest growth years were probably from 2005 – 2011, with subscription levels shifting from 34% to 85% in that period, according to data published by the ITU. Penetration increased to 91% in 2012%, forecasts for 2013 are for 96%.

(Source: ITU – 3. Mobile in the Developing World)

The “developing world” is following a mobile-first trajectory. The laptop/desktop phase is likely to be skipped. Many innovations in mobile – multi-SIM cards, low value rechargers, mobile payments – have originated in poorer countries. The tail is effectively wagging the dog.

(Source: World Bank Report 2012: Maximizing Mobile. Information and Communication for Development)

4. Mobile: Positively Disruptive

Mobile is transforming key industries, enabling efficiencies, cost-savings and multiple stakeholder benefits in both the developing and developed world:

  • M-health: Mobile devices promise a whole scale transformation in the treatment of chronically ill patients, the aged and infirm through remote and continuous monitoring. One example: compliance understanding is improved drastically, checking if patients are taking medication at the right time and in the right dosage.
  • Developing world agriculture: small-stakeholder farmers and others in the supply chain can exchange price information through text messaging. *
  • M-finance: mobiles are already capable of being digital wallets. Transferring money from account to account, paying for goods or services – the way we pay in future is likely to be transformed via mobile.
  • Retail: mobile will transform the way we browse and shop. We can browse and shop after closing hours (John Lewis reported peak traffic to its website on Christmas Day 2013 was 9 pm –, share and discuss potential purchases online via social media.

(*Source: World Bank Report 2012: Maximizing Mobile. Information and Communication for Development)

5. Mobile: a playful medium

Mobile is undoubtedly “useful” in any number of ways – Google maps helps you locate where you are, all sorts of apps help you discover how people rate a restaurant in a town you’re visiting for the first time, you can check prices in-store of something that interests you. Mobile is a massive functional and social enhancer/enabler.

It’s important not to forget that mobile has another “face” – it’s playful. A few figures/stats. to substantiate: 1 billion of the total global 2 billion gamers are on mobile devices. (Source: UK Mobile Marketing Association –

The TNS Mobile Life 2013 Study shows that in emerging markets (both in less developed* and more developed **)  playing games is mainly done on mobiles. In developed markets, with a legacy of desktop/laptop, mobile is still very widely used for gaming, in joint 2nd place at 25% behind desktop at 28%. Entertainment features high in mobile usage. 83% of Global Smartphone users listen to music on their smartphones. (Source: TNS 2013 Mobile Life Study)

The implications for research are clear: introducing a fun aspect into any form of survey will help enhance engagement, the length of time a participant will willingly dedicate to your “knowledge needs”. Gamification and mobile are natural bedfellows.

* Cameroon, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, Vietnam

** China, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Poland

6. “Shopping” on the mobile (looking for products to buy/ actually buying) is a lower-order priority after socializing, playing, relaxing – at least in the US

(Source: BBDO/ AOL Survey, published in Harvard Business Review Summary Jan/ Feb. 2013 –

7. Mobiles accompany us everywhere…. – including the bathroom!

75% of Britons and North Americans stated they used their mobiles whilst in the bathroom (the toilet, actually)

(Source: UKStudy commissionned by Sony / O2 in the UK amongst 2.000 adults –; USA 2012 study by Marketing Agency 11Mark –

8. In-home Usage of Mobile (Smartphones)  is often the most Common Place of Use

98% of Japanese smartphone owners stated they used their phones at home, whilst 87% said they used them on-the-go. In Russia, 95% stated they used their smartphones at home, 88% on the go.

(Source: Google study, Our Mobile Planet – (Japan); – Russia)

9. The rise of Mobile-only Households is increasing

An increasing number of households are mobile-only.

40% of American households are mobile-only, according to data referred to by US MR Agency Pew Research – The percentage has been rising rapidly and continually over the past 5 years.

In Australia, the figure is about 20%, according to the University of Queensland –

Telephone research (CATI) that wishes to ensure a representative sample of the General Population increasingly needs to build in an ever higher percentage of mobile respondents into the Survey Design.

10. Usage of smartphones amongst the the  50+ Generation is still relatively limited

Pew Research shows the age divide in smartphone usage as particularly marked between the over and under 50 year olds. The 18-29 year age cohort shows strong engagement with smartphones across many of the 21 countries examined, whilst the 50 + age group shows shower consistently lower adoption levels.

(Source. Pew Research, Global Attitudes Project, 2012 –

That’s it – my “Top 10” hit-list of interesting facts and figures on mobile usage, which no doubt given the pace of change in the mobile space, will need updating in the not-too-distant future.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views on what they feel should have made it into a “Top 10” List.

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6 responses to “Top 10 Key Mobile Facts For Market Research

  1. Good overview on how mobile is becoming the standard!
    In our belief, the true impact of mobile on market research is that mobile technology enables to collect insights that were previously inaccessible.
    This is because the mobile device acts as a set of sensors very close to the consumer, and is capable to deliver much more detailed information about the consumer’s experience than traditional methods.
    An example: a food manufacturer can collect real-time feedback – including pictures taken by consumers – when launching a new product. For more info, see

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