Telephone manufacturers, mobile service providers and content producers need to put the "smart" back in "Smart Phones" by offering applications that improve users' lives.
BuzzCity recently surveyed mobile social networkers in more than ten countries. One theme that clearly emerged from our research is that wireless consumers want to be able to do more with their mobile phones. There's a demand for m-commerce, mobile banking, search, chat, dating and more. In some cases, mobile services like these may already exist in a country but consumers simply don't know about them (which means that providers need to do a better job of getting the word out).
There's no clear industry definition of what constitutes a "Smart Phone" -- but what comes to mind for most people are Palm Pilots, Blackberries and iPhones. These devices are targeted at business users. However executives are just a small segment of the market and these handsets are just one type of smartphone. But what about the phones the rest of us use?
Thanks to improvements in technology, most consumers now have access to multimedia internet-enabled phones. They want practical applications, including product information and the ability to act on it. For example, a supermarket can publish or sponsor mobile sites that offer recipes. The ingredients become a shopping list, which with the right m-commerce applications, consumers can purchase with their phones.
There are already some mobile recipe sites, but there's space for a whole lot more.
- Kraft Foods features a new recipe every day on its mobile website. Users can also search Kraft's databank of recipes, each one obviously featuring a Kraft Foods' product.
- Punjabi-Recipes.com has customised sites for both PC and mobile connections. There are hundreds of recipes here that you can browse by category (rice, snacks, chutney, etc.), popularity or date.
- You can search by ingredient on the Allrecipes.com's mobile site, which also features user-generated reviews and ratings.
None of these mobile sites, though, takes the obvious next step, which is to enable consumers to make a purchase. In the BuzzCity myGamma Digital Lifestyle survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they had made a remote purchase (by phone, mail or internet). And half of the respondents indicated they would like to use their phones to make financial transactions. So there is clearly a market here that is just waiting to be tapped.
Recipes are obviously just one example of the type of content that can be used as the basis for mobile communities and applications. Here are a few more:
More than half of our survey respondents are likely to look for a new job within the coming year, either because they will graduate from school or are looking to switch employers. Job Placement companies and online Job Banks, take note.
The electronic media – TV, movies, music – is by far the favourite leisure activity of myGamma members. Yet less than four percent of survey respondents have purchased movie tickets online or via their mobile phones. Either mobile ticketing services are not available or cinemas and ticketing agencies are not doing a good job of getting the word out.
And as mentioned, more than half of the survey respondents say they would use their mobile phones for financial services, if such services were available in their country. One-third would like to be able to transfer money. Yet mobile remittance services are already available in many of these markets. Consumers just don't know it. Banks and companies like Western Union need to step up their public education and marketing programmes if consumers are to use their services.
Of course, not every site needs to be based on commerce. Here's a website that definitely meets a need. With MizPee, you can locate a nearby a toilet and also check out its ranking ("Royal Flush" being the best, "Prison Toilet" the worst). Other pages of this website are based on e-commerce, with restaurant and shopping deals on offer, again based on locality. I'm not sure if MizPee has developed a mobile version, but if they haven't, they should.
So, let's not get too caught up in the iPhone media buzz. For the foreseeable future, the mass market multimedia phone will remain the dominant method of accessing mobile data services. Advertisers, content producers, marketers and publishers who want to tap the potential of the mobile medium need to broaden their focus, look beyond the iPhone and devices like it and develop better consumer services.