The fight for attention

Despite manufacturers and operators packing ever more functions and features into mobile phones, the majority of consumers continue to stick with the basic phone functions.

According to a study conducted by TNS Global, Asia-Pacific mobile phone consumers use on average 4.4 phone features - slight lower than the global average of 4.6.

The TNS Global Telecoms Insight (GTI) study, which interviewed almost 16,000 respondents across 29 countries, found that Hong Kong consumers were the most sophisticated, using an average of 7.3 phone features, followed by Australians with 5.8. The average for mainland Chinese consumers was 4.5 features, just below the level in developed markets such as Korea, Taiwan and Japan (4.8-4.7). Indian consumers said they use just 3.1 features.

'Consumers across the region are not exploiting the full functionality of their mobile devices,' said TNS regional director for technology Evette Cordy. 'This could be a result of user-interface issues, lack of perceived need, or they simply are not aware of the features built into their handset. The imperative for the industry is to guide consumers toward these features, articulate the benefits and make them easy to use.'

The top four features in Asia Pacific are no surprise: SMS (used by 88% of respondents), games (71%), cameras (61%) and MMS (48%). Globally just 6% of those with cameras reported they don't use them, but 38% of phones still don't have cameras. In Asia Pacific the number of respondents using digital music players jumped from 36% in 2006 to 43% last year. The number of users saying they access their internet on their handsets dropped 8 percentage points to 34% from the year earlier, suggesting there are still major barriers to adoption, such as high costs and speed issues.

Of users accessing the mobile internet, the average number of minutes used per week varied greatly across the region. While the usage per week was similar for emerging Asia (169 minutes) and developed Asia (158 minutes), China users were second with 453 minutes of usage per week only to Italy (768 minutes). Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan were near the developed Asia average, but Korea lagged with an average of 109 minutes per week.

Usage of TV/video content increased across most of Asia, with the exception of Hong Kong, where just 20% of respondents reported using the services compared to 24% in 2006. The number of users in Australia and Korea almost doubled to 20% - more than twice the global average of 8%.

Downloading or viewing real-time TV services appear to have strong potential as 60% of non-users said that they are interested to try out these services in the future. However, evidence shows that lapsed users account for more than 50% of those who have tried the service, suggesting that a poor customer experience has disillusioned consumers. 'The high rate of lapsed usage of TV and video mobile services indicates that the industry has not yet succeeded in delivering a satisfactory service that offers incremental benefits compared with desktop or TV options,' explained Cordy.

Although mobile IM has only an 11% adoption rate in Asia Pacific, the application has the highest potential for growth of all functions offered, with 55% of those surveyed saying they will likely use it more in the future.


Some 62% of current subscribers in the region say that they use IM daily, and 27% say that they use it at least once a week. In Hong Kong 23% of users claim to use IM on their handsets while 16% of users in China use IM.

Once adopted more widely, IM has the potential to challenge SMS as the main messaging method on mobile phones, Cordy suggested.

While mobile operators have started offering a raft of GPS and location-based services, uptake of the services has only reached double-digits in a few markets - 13% in Japan for both GPS and LBS and 7% and 10% in Taiwan for GPS and LBS. Globally just 5% of respondents said they use GPS, with just 8% having access to it. Although 53% of respondents claimed to have access to LBS, just 3% used the services. 

The TNS survey also showed that 22% of mobile consumers in developed Asian markets own two SIM cards or more. Taiwan topped the global list with 44% of users owning two or three SIMs, followed by Hong Kong (40%), Australia (29%) and Korea (22%).

The key reasons for using multiple SIM cards are to keep personal and work related use separate (45%), to use different numbers when traveling to different locations (17%) and to enable family members to share mobile numbers (16%). There is indeed a substantial market for developing phones that allow users to use two SIM cards at the same time although whether network operators would want to support this concept by selling the phones through their outlets is questionable.

But with 25% of users in developed Asia owning two or more handsets (compared to 17% globally), the need for handsets to accept two SIMs seems unnecessary. In Hong Kong and Taiwan 41% of users have more than one mobile phone; in Korea and Australia 29% of respondents report owning multiple handsets.

While the average user in Hong Kong is on his/her seventh handset, the majority of consumers in emerging Asia and China are still on their first or second phone

Based on 16 markets, the study also points out that the expected lifespan of mobile handsets shortened slightly in 2007 compared to 2006, from 36 months to 33 months. Despite expecting their mobile phones to last for about three years, around 50% of mobile users are planning to buy a new mobile phone in the next 18 months. The most lucrative market for mobile phone manufacturers is Hong Kong, where 74% of consumers plan to buy their next device within 18 months.

Fernan Flores from TNS contributed to this article.

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