Targeting smartphone apps for mass-market users

Gail Rahn Frederick Who is the typical smartphone user? I envision a stressed-out businessperson or dangling-headphone hipster. My stereotypical smartphone user is an affluent, tech-savvy individual who harnesses the power of her device for near-constant interactions with mobile data services. She uses her smartphone to send email, browse the Web, stream videos and music, connect with friends on social networks, comparison-shop, and find nearby restaurants and businesses. Oh yes, and she occasionally uses her mobile phone for voice calls.

My stereotype crumbles as more and more mobile users upgrade from feature phones to smartphones. This year, mass-market consumers are stampeding into the smartphone ecosystem. 2010 is the year when "anyone with a touchscreen" is using their shiny, new smartphone to consume mobile data services. Clever mobile developers recognize the exploding smartphone user base as an unparalleled opportunity to simplify the usability of mobile Web and native applications and provide personalized experiences to suit all kinds of smartphone users.

One fascinating example of an emerging smartphone user demographic is the "iPhone mom." First uncovered by a mobile advertising company, about 25 percent of iPhone users are "iPhone moms," college-educated mothers who use their smartphones for store locating, comparison shopping, managing shopping lists, couponing, scheduling and downloading games and entertainment apps. More than half of "iPhone moms" allow their children to use their iPhones (another gold star for Apple's utterly simple and usable the iPhone interface).

Why the sudden explosion of smartphone users? Barriers to mass-market smartphone adoption are being eliminated left and right by mobile network operators, smartphone OEMs and mobile developers:

  • Plummeting prices and generous operator subsidies make smartphones affordable to more consumers. Witness the Motorola Droid Eris, an Android smartphone available online and on-contract from Verizon Wireless for under $100.
  • Flat-rate data plans provide consumers with predictable and budget-able monthly smartphone usage costs. T-Mobile USA's Even More Plus plans provide unlimited voice, data and messaging with no contract for $80 per month.
  • Easy-to-learn user interfaces of modern smartphone operating systems make smartphones less daunting to newbie consumers. The Apple iPhone is an iconic example of a smartphone whose skyrocketing adoption is due to an extraordinarily consumer-friendly user interface. Palm webOS and Google Android are also well-suited for mass-market consumers.
  • Touchscreens and Qwerty keyboards (and other must-have hardware features) are persuading users to upgrade to smartphones. A Gartner study of second quarter 2009 handset sales reported smartphone sales growth of 27 percent, while total handset sales fell 6 percent.
  • Smartphones provide access to catalogs of useful, cool and fun mobile apps that are aren't available on feature phones.

Mass-market adoption of smartphones still faces at least one important barrier--a significant knowledge gap. One survey of mobile subscribers found that nearly half of customers want to buy a smartphone but simply don't understand how to use them. In my opinion, this data implies that mass-market smartphone adoption will be strongest for the devices that are simplest to operate. Android, webOS and iPhone will win here. The traditionally business-oriented BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and S60 operating systems must adapt or risk alienating mass-market consumers focused on personal smartphone use. BlackBerry currently has a 2-to-1 user advantage over the iPhone, but this advantage will diminish in 2010 unless BlackBerry improves its consumer appeal.

Simultaneously, the amount of mobile subscribers using and expected to start using mobile data services is growing exponentially...Continued

Next page