July 30, 2012

Smartphones and Local Content

By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Where are you reading this article? And from what sort of device?

Are you on a PC, laptop, tablet, feature phone or smartphone?

Odds are you're using a smartphone.

And that's not just because you're someone interested in mobile issues (though that does help).

If you're in the UK, Singapore or a young professional in just about any developed market, there's a very good chance you regularly access information from an iPhone, Blackberry, Samsung Galaxy or some other smartphone.

In fact, across the BuzzCity Network, 47 percent of all consumers are now using smartphones.

Smartphones Rising

This percentage rises to nearly 90% in the UK, 88% in Spain, 77% in France and 87% in China. In fact, we have twenty markets in which nearly 1 in 4 consumers goes online with a smartphone.

But what is a smartphone? Today's feature phones often offer the same - or even better - capabilities than older generation smartphones. For example, a 2011 Samsung Star 3 is comparable to the 2007 Blackberry Curve 320 and the Sony Ericsson txt pro is just as good as the 2007 Motorola Q9H.

(There's no accepted differentiation between smart and feature phones, though that's a conversation for another day.)

Sales Models

While smartphones differentiate themselves from non-feature phones by their capabilities, they tend to compete with each other on price and carrier subsidies. The most common distribution method has been for manufacturers to partner with mobile operators, which offer consumers free or discounted smartphones in exchange for long-term subscriptions.

For example, in Singapore, a 16GB iPhone 4S costs S$948 (about US$755). But M1 users can purchase it for just over half that price and StarHub gives "PowerTalk Ultimate" subscribers (who pay S$200/month for 2000 minutes and free surfing) one for free.

Smartphones are about to become mainstream, but they're not quite there yet. To make the jump, handset makers need to branch out and secure reasonably-priced distribution independent of the carriers.

In addition, smartphones will also need help from a few friends if they are to continue gaining significant market share . . . .

Content, コンテンツ, Nội dung

As part of our jobs here at BuzzCity, we attend a number of trade seminars and conferences around the globe. At times these can seem like disparate events, but recently we've been hearing a common theme across markets: a demand for more localised and local-language mobile content.

At a conference in Jordan, for example, the head of a local ICT association, Abed Shamlawi said that he expects Jordanians to be able to conduct business, pay utility bills and manage their bank accounts from mobile devices, all thanks to local apps. He noted though that the Arab Region is not there yet.

“Focusing on mobile apps provides a great opportunity for app developers in Jordan as the entire region is in need of more apps,” Shamlawi said.

And at Mobile Web West Africa 2012, speakers noted that advertisements are largely reaching consumers via international sites, because there's not enough local content.

Mobile growth overall seems to be largely driven by people who are comfortable with English:

  • A lot of 'local' content is simply translated from English.
  • Services like Facebook are designed with an American perspective.
  • Many non-Western sites still rely on roman scripts.
  • Games are more likely to be based on Hollywood characters than local or national heroes.
And even something as simple as logging in and logging out can vary from place to place.

Go Local

We've thought about this for some time here at BuzzCity. We conduct user surveys in a multitude of languages and our mobile social network, my Gamma, is available in 165 languages, thanks to the active support of local volunteer teams who are keen to promote local content.

Another company working to promote local content is the fast-growing flirty social network Eskimi, which has quickly built an audience of 3.5 million consumers in Nigeria and 7 million world-wide. Eskimi is built on easy-to-use apps that target feature phones. After Nigeria, its next biggest markets are Ghana, Vietnam and Indonesia.

There are definitely other examples . . .
  • Some carriers, like MTN in South Africa, are starting to play a leading role in content creation. MTN has created a portal called "MTN Play" for music, photos and more. 
  • And in China, the messaging service QQ is beating MSN largely because it knows how to target the 'single-child' generation.
There are plenty of opportunities for developers, carriers and publishers to create more local content . . . and the future growth of the mobile internet - and smartphones - depends on it.

The Bottom Line

Smartphones are poised to become a mainstream handset but first, two things need to happen:

One, handset manufacturers need to develop new distribution channels and 

Two, local content needs a push to take centre stage.