Canadians dive deeper into smartphone capabilities

Web browsing, social networking, mobile polls, location-based services, games, mobile purchases – these are just some of the functions today’s smartphones are able to do – but are Canadian handset users employing all these features?

Well, somewhat. We’re getting there, according to Canadian mobile experts.

Phone calls, clock and alarm functions, and text messaging remain the top three most-used smartphone functions among even the next generation (NGen) demographic of mobile tech immersed users aged 18 to 34, according to a recent poll conducted by Delvinia, a Toronto-based interactive design and digital marketing firm that is also known for its AskingCanadians panel.

Web browsing, global positioning system-based services, use of social networks such as Facebook mobile and Twitter mobile, and signing up for mobile contests and promotions all appear in the bottom half portion of a list of 18 smartphone functionalities that Delvinia queried Canadian about as part of the firm’s AskingCanadians poll.

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“In general, Canadians are not leveraging their smartphone capabilities although there has been some movement toward greater adoption in the last year,” said Steve Mast, president of Delvinia.

Results of Delvinia’s most recent survey on the local mobile market entitled “The Reality of Mobile in Canada,” shows that in 2009 about 92 per cent of next generation mobile users used their devices for phone calls; 77 per cent used mobile phones as alarm clocks; 76 per cent used it for text messaging; and 67 per cent used mobile phones as a camera.

That same year, youth using mobile phone for Web browsing was around 25 per cent and those using Facebook mobile was at 22 per cent. Those using GPS and mapping services was 21 per cent.

In 2010, phone call users showed a slight increase (99 per cent); camera usage  rose slightly (69 per cent); text messaging dropped (71 per cent); alarm clock usage dropped (62 per cent).

However, there were notable changes in the usage of more advanced and social networking smartphone features:

  • Web browsing rose to 40 per cent
  • GPS and mapping usage rose to 26 per cent
  • Facebook mobile (26 per cent)
  • Subscription and mobile alerts made an appearance (18 per cent)
  • Contest and promotions grew from 8 to 16 per cent
  • Users began using mobile polling, voting and survey features (13 per cent)
  • Users dipped their toes into mobile purchasing (other than games and ringtones) 13 per cent
  • Twitter Mobile inched upwards from 6 to 9 per cent
  • People began using LinkedIn mobile (8 per cent)

Mobile feature and consumer uptake gap is closing

Brandon Mensinga, senior mobile analyst for Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada, says the gap between handset capability and consumer adoption is rapidly narrowing.

Traditionally, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) focus on features and specs of the handsets they produce while marketers concentrate on defining a value proposition for the product, he said. “As a result the mobile market has these periods when there is a gap between the release of a technology and the ability of the consumers to digest its use to them.”

This, he said, can be seen in the case of problems in North America encountered by Nokia handsets at its Symbian operating system (OS).

“Nokias were very excellent phones phones that had features such as Bluetooth technology and about 40,000 to 50,000 apps before many of the other smartphones have them.” But at that time, not a lot of users were taking advantage of the advanced features, he said.

“This is not the case now in the post-iPhone period,” said the IDC analyst.

As the touch screen and tablet wars heat up, Mensigna said, consumers are beginning to develop an appetite for larger screen and better user experience.

As a result exposure to various mobile handset capabilities is on the rise. For instance, an IDC survey of Canadians using smartphones shows that in a typical week:

  • 22 per cent log onto social networks using their phones
  • 19 per cent of users get directions from mobile map services
  • 19 per cent download mobile apps

What’s notable here is that the use of non-traditional mobile features is above 10 per cent, according to Mensigna. “Traction is definitely building up.”

What Canadian mobile consumers are saying

The entrance of new mobile device into the market in recent years appear to be whetting consumer appetite, according to Amy  Sullivan, vice president for customer insights at Delvinia.

For instance, currently there is a 23 per cent ownership in Canada of handheld gaming devices such as the PSP but people who intend to buy the product is at 3 per cent only.

Related story – IDC forecasts 1.5M plus tablets in Canada by end of year

Contrast that with e-book ownership which is at 3 per cent but those intending to buy the product is at 13 per cent and iPad ownership which is at 5 per cent with 17 per cent intending to purchase the tablet in the future.

“There are unprecedented levels of loyalty for new mobile entrants,” Sullivan also said. She said Delvinia measured the loyalty by the level at which users would miss their new device.

Delvinia also found out that:

  • 1 in 2 Canadians are willing to pay more for technologies that help them save time
  • 1 in 5 Canadians lament that technology interferes with their personal lives
  • 87 per cent said that the ability to use multiple applications at the same time is important
  • 12 per cent of respondents are receptive to relevant marketing messages
  • 9 per cent will welcome marketing messages based on demos
  • 25 per cent will text a keyword to company in exchange for a coupon
  • 30 per cent are open to receiving products or service coupons based on demos
  • Over half or Canadian online shoppers own a cellphone
  • 1 in 4 Canadians like the idea o receiving a product advertisement via their mobile phone

While Canadian consumers are just beginning to realize the potentials of their mobile devices, Mast of Delvinia said businesses interested in creating a mobile presence should strike while the iron is hot.

“It’s time for organizations to understand how to fully leverage the mobile channel and optimize a user centred approach to drive adoption, as well as reinforce a drive brand loyalty,” said Mast.

Nestor is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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