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Smarter than the average phone

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Globally more people have mobile phones than toothbrushes and consumers want them to control all aspects of their domestic lives  
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Consumers want smartphones to run their lives

More people in the world now own a mobile phone than a toothbrush and almost 75% of us in the UK log on to the internet while on the move every day. This new breed of mobile consumers is ever more demanding and increasingly sees the smartphone as a remote control for their lives.

M-consumers don’t simply want to make calls and send texts. Typing emails to the boss on the train no longer seems extraordinary. Uploading a picture to a social networking site is now a 10-second task and browsing fashion apps for the latest must-have shoes passes a few hours at home when the television is rubbish.

From its humble beginnings as a glorified email reader for busy executives, the smartphone has evolved into an everyman device that has changed the behaviour patterns of large swathes of the world’s population.

This mini industrial revolution has all happened in the five years since Apple launched the iPhone and is gathering pace. It would seem the next stage of evolution, from a technology standpoint, is to bring all the various mobile devices together in one super smartphone that can make calls, surf the web and take care of a myriad other daily chores.

For developers and corporations this idea of convergence holds out enticing possibilities of huge efficiency savings from working to one global standard and being able to scrap many peripheral technologies and more traditional means of communication, such as the humble telephone.

A beguiling dream, perhaps, but it is not going to happen. Intersperience has been tracking the behaviour of mobile consumers since they first emerged and there is strong evidence in our latest research, revealed at Open Ideas in May, that convergence remains an elusive aspiration of software developers. If anything, people are using more devices, rather than fewer.

There has been a 20% rise in the number of people using mobile internet in the last three years and people are as likely to click on a smartphone as they are a laptop or PC for the most popular online tasks – email, social networking, website searching, games, headlines and sports scores.

Some 8% have a smartphone and a tablet, while 63% of those with both have used a tablet to connect to the internet when they could have used a TV. There is nothing to suggest convergence in that.

When the iPad was launched in April, 2010 Intersperience said it marked a defining moment in the evolution of the internet. We predicted then, and are seeing it happen clearly now, that the very nature of the internet would change as it comes to be seen as the “electricity” that powers a vast online world, rather than an end in itself.

It is not the desktop PC or even the laptop, but the multi-functional smartphone that is emerging as the fulcrum of this new reality. Here are two very small nuggets that prove the point: 42% of under-18s want to use smartphones to “control other things” in the future and three times as many under-18s would choose a mobile over a PC for downloading photos.

In our qualitative studies we have found enthusiasm for the following as additional services offered on mobile phones: universal remotes for controlling home entertainment and appliances; games console controllers; traffic monitors to avoid congestion; keys for cars, homes and businesses; augmented reality platforms to provide maps with routes embedded and project images of friends.

If this all sounds a bit sci-fi – or hormonal teenager’s bedroom – the fact is that the growing number of mobile consumers want greater access to the online world and are happy to use any device that delivers it.

Whether the smartphone is the catch-all device is a moot point. However, it does have the advantage of being small, lightweight and offers charging structures – monthly tariffs and micro payments for apps –that most people are familiar with. It is the most personal of devices, the one we keep with us all of the time (some even sleep with it close by).

While it might be the device of the moment, companies seeking to engage m-consumers should not consider it a catch-all, nor should they ignore other communication channels. For example, by 2015 there will have been seven million iPads sold. Even now, email and phone remain the most popular methods of communicating with corporations with consumers.

When it comes to cloud computing, the great British public has not yet worked out what it is most comfortable with. Only 10% of those questioned consider themselves technology experts and 57% see themselves as “beginners”. At the same time, 61% see technology as “necessary” to their everyday lives.

M-commerce has been a much-hyped channel for five years but we at Intersperience always predicted that adoption would be slow and that the impact would not be felt in direct sales, but rather in the seamless way mobile devices interact with other sales and marketing channels, as price comparison tools and providers of accessible consumer information.

Bombarded with choice and delivery mechanisms, the attention of today’s m-consumer is divided. Our evidence shows those companies offering technologies and products that are easy to grasp and deliver identifiable benefits to individual lives are poised to be the long-term winners.

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