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The Smartphone: Quite Possibly Your Best Friend’s BFF

By: Ryan Raghunandan

Have you seen these smartphones before? Odds are, yes you have.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Cook

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They are starting to pop up everywhere.  They are taking over big cities and small towns.  Aliens? Nope.  Locusts? No.  Justin Bieber fans?  Good guess, but no. Give up?  It’s your friendly neighbourhood smartphone.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past several years, you know that smartphones are becoming increasingly prevalent in Canada.  According to a January 2012 Ipsos Reid Mobilology study, 34% of Canadians now own a Smartphone; with BlackBerry and Apple handsets remaining the most popular brands (Barbour / Ipsos Reid, 2012)[i].

I decided to undertake a quick study to find out how and where my family and friends were using their smartphones.  I will be quoting statistics from my study throughout the rest of this blog, unless otherwise indicated.

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The Methodology:

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My survey was posted online on Google Docs from Saturday, July 14 – Tuesday, July 17, 2012.  E-mail invitations were sent to friends and family members.  Friends and family members were also asked to send the survey out to their friends, so it is possible that there were some referral survey respondents.

As a result of using a convenience sample* of family and friends as survey respondents, the results of my survey cannot be generalized to the entire population.

*A sample consists of the people who actually filled out the survey

Demographics:

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N = 41 (the survey was filled out by 41 people)

Gender breakdown of respondents: 51% Female, 49% Male

Age breakdown of respondents:

16-24 years old: 2%

25-34 years old: 90%

35+ years old: 7%

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Summary of Results:

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From my study, here are the top uses based on the data I collected:

 

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 Consumer Smartphone Uses:

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Texting topped the list in terms of activity amongst smartphone users in my study.  A remarkable 98% of respondents use their smartphones for texting.  That number was followed closely by talking (93% of respondents), e-mailing (88%) and taking pictures (80%).

Following behind in the next group, were smartphone activities such as browsing websites (73% of respondents indicated this use), instant messaging (63%), Facebook (63%), navigation and maps (63%), and general use of apps (61%).

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Where Consumers Use Smartphones:

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The top settings for smartphone use were at home (100% of respondents), work (95%) and the mall (85%).  This was followed by use while taking public transit (71%), at a restaurant (66%), as a passenger in a private vehicle (61%) and at a bar /club /lounge (54%).

Important Note: For the non-researchers out there, recall that 90% of the survey respondents were between the ages of 25-34.  As a result of this fact, there were a very low percentage of people who reported using their smartphone device at school. Be cautioned that most of the people who took this survey were probably finished school.  I would hypothesize (taking an educated guess) that at least 80% of smartphone users would use their phones at school, if they were attending school on a daily basis.  This is a prime example of how one cannot take the findings from a convenience sample of 41 friends and family members and generalize to the entire population.

Before getting to the analysis I figured it would be easier if I combined the data that was gathered above with the results from an informal focus group (a group discussion that is guided by a moderator) of six friends.  One of the main objectives was to find out why smartphone owners use instant messaging, Facebook and texting so prevalently.

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Focus Group (Qualitative Study): Key Findings

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  • Respondents believed that texting, talking, e-mailing, taking pictures and going on Facebook were among the top uses of smartphones because they enabled people to be efficient, stay in touch, communicate and socialize.
  • Texting was regarded as being extremely efficient because it allowed consumers to carry out multiple conversations, as opposed to just one conversation while placing a voice call.
  • Facebook was used mostly to socialize, update and inform others of what was currently going on in the respondents’ respective lives.
  • Respondents stated that they texted, used the internet and made purchases on their smartphones at the mall.  Texting was used to continue socializing; while the internet was used to check sales and comparison shop.
  • In one case, a respondent used their iPhone to pay for goods at Starbucks. She stated that strangers were approaching her and asking what she “just did with her phone at the counter”.
  • Hypothetical situation: If a smartphone was a person, what words would respondents use to describe it?  Smart, efficient, entertaining, moody, dependable and as one respondent said “a friend that’s always there for you.”.
  • The focus group generally agreed that owning a smartphone had made their lives more efficient while increasing convenience.
  • Whether it allowed them to clear out their e-mail inbox on the way home (and thus freeing up more leisure time), or facilitating the co-ordination and planning of events, the smartphone was “making things go (happen) faster.”.

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Overall Analysis and Commentary on Smartphone Use

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Smartphones provide consumers with the ability to communicate with friends, family or business associates.  Based on the responses in my study, consumers  want to communicate and stay connected to each other on a daily basis.  In the words of one focus group respondent, a smartphone is like a “friend that is always there for you.”.  It is this level of emotional attachment that phone manufacturers and telecommunication companies aspire to achieve with the mass market.

The top three smartphone uses are texting (100%), talking (93%), e-mailing (88%).  These are all viewed as forms of basic communication, especially for those 35 and under.  Numerous texts sent in a short period of time can quickly transform simple texting into a conversation-like scenario.  Do you text a significant other or friend 30 times a day to find out how they are doing?  As one focus group respondent articulated, “texting throughout the day makes me feel like I’m right with the person I’m texting, all day.”

Phone manufacturers have already noticed the above and have taken texting one step further.  Features such as Blackberry’s BBM instant messaging service allow consumers to essentially text message in real-time.  Think of it as MSN for the smartphone.

Taking pictures (80% of survey respondents), browsing websites (73%), instant messaging (63%), Facebook (63%) and navigation uses (63%) were next on the list of top smartphone uses.  These uses seem to go hand in hand with consumers desiring to stay connected.  Consumers like to share their pictures and, by nature, humans like to feel loved and/or a part of group or activity.

Suppose you woke up a little foggy after a night of partying.  Have no fear, because Facebook is here.  There could easily be hundreds of pictures posted from the party the previous night on Facebook by noon the next day.  Socially, Facebook lets consumers collaborate, plan and share all the activities they have been involved with.  Instant messaging can help facilitate the creation of these plans, in real time, so there is no time delay.  Consumers can pull out their phones as they are en route to a destination and message their friends that they are minutes away or even that they are “walking towards the Sears entrance” at the mall.

Browsing websites on a smartphone is a prime example of staying connected to the world around us.  Whether it’s looking up the latest news headlines, sports scores, celebrity gossip or the latest sales at a particular store, consumers are trying to stay current and up-to-date during their daily routine.

From a marketer’s perspective, what does the above mean when it comes to advertising?

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The Future of Smartphone Advertisements?

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You may not have noticed, but it has been a long time since dropped calls or signal quality were the main selling points in mobile phone advertisements.  The technology has come so far, almost everyone takes call quality as a given.  When you think of it, the main feature of a phone is to talk, however smartphones have changed that way of thinking.

Presently, I have noticed that the focus on smartphone advertisements centers on people connecting, sharing and interacting with one another.  Advertisements depict people multi-tasking, capturing special moments, sharing with friends and family, and increasing the convenience in their lives.

Take a look at a current  commercial for the Samsung Galaxy S III here.  Have you finished watching that 30 second commercial?  Good.  Let’s see, there were wedding photos being taken, a wedding proposal video at an airport, and a father reading a short story (on his smartphone) to help put his child to sleep.  That smartphone is everywhere.  Those wedding photos are definitely going to be shared with friends and family.  The Galaxy S III is even doing the communicating (proposing) on behalf of the boyfriend in the 2nd scene.  Reading a bedtime story on the smartphone is now more convenient with the Galaxy S III since no physical book is needed, it is all on the phone.  Of course, this is just one commercial but if you start paying closer attention to smartphone commercials, perhaps you will see a trend too.

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Smartphone Social Etiquette: Dinner and Movie

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The survey revealed that 66% of respondents are using their phones while they are at a restaurant, and 27% of people are ignoring the “silence is golden” rule at the movies by using their smartphone.  What was the focus group’s reaction towards these findings?  It turns out that use of smartphones at the lunch or dinner table was not a huge deal.  In fact, respondents stated that it’s “common” and it’s “natural to want to be on the phone”.  Respondent also said they would text or look at the time on their phones, rather than carry out a voice conversation on their phone at the table.

However, the focus group was split when it came to smartphone use in the movies, with the biggest grievances being the glare from the illuminated screen and the noise from people talking.

What about one-on-one conversations?  Twice now, I have witnessed two different sets of co-workers taking their break together, sitting at the same table, yet they are not saying a word or looking at each other.  What are they doing?  Take a guess.  Correct, they are texting away on their smartphone.  It gets trickier when you’re in a group of four people engaged in a good, old-fashioned conversation, and one person gets up to use the bathroom.  What do you do when the other two people remaining besides yourself use the bathroom break as a cue to check their text messages or e-mails?

Public transit is another setting where social etiquette dilemmas may arise.  Have you been on the train or bus and someone sitting a few rows down is speaking so loudly that you know they will be spending their evening watching the Oprah Network and eating a tub of ice cream? It can be annoying.

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Final Thoughts from the Readers:

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  • So is there a new social etiquette? What do you think of the above situations?
  • In addition, what do you think about my survey results? Are there any surprises?
  • Has owning a smartphone affected your life?
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FOOTNOTES

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[i]Barbour, Mary Beth and Ipsos Reid (2012, April 19). Latest Wave of Ipsos Study Reveals Mobile Device Brands Canadian Consumers are Considering in 2012. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from Ipsos Reid: http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=5596

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