New study finds customers in need of simple smart phones

Developers are feverishly pitching mobile operators on next-generation smart phone applications, but users would gladly trade in advanced features for simpler devices and easier payment options, according to new research from Cap Gemini.

While operators consider video, picture messaging and

other data services their primary means of competing in the market, 73 per cent of users don’t consider those options important, Cap Gemini vice-president Kieren Sheedy told a conference session audience. In fact, many users said they would accept fewer data services in favour of a cheaper phone or more convenient purchasing plan. Some 40 per cent, for example, said they would be satisfied if they were only able to pay their bills with their phone, and 36 per cent said they would be happy if their only data feature was online purchasing.

The main concern for most users is being able to monitor their mobile phone costs, Sheedy said.

“”Customers aren’t satisfied with (the ease of paying) and operators don’t care,”” he said. “”Not a good place to be if you’re an operator.””

While operators sort out their payment methods and pricing models, several application developers on the show floor said they feel confident they can generate demand for their mobile data services. Purple Ace, for example, is exhibiting Ripple Premium Client, a way to publish or manage content through their cell phones.

John Ilott, a Purple Ace Consultant, said subscribers would use Ripple Publish, for example, to transfer photos or videos they take on their cell phones to a network store provided by an operator. They can then use send links to a set of contacts through short message service. They pay operators a fee to do this, but Ripple Publish allows the subscriber to charge those who view their content.

“”You create a community,”” Ilott said. “”The operators have been trying to figure out how to make money with all this, but the subscribers will want to use the services if they think they can make money themselves.””

Cognima, meanwhile, is offering a similar service where photos or videos can be uploaded to a media album or mobile blog. The London-based firm has so far sold the service to companies like Fuji and has received interest from Yahoo!, according to software engineer Hassan Ali. “”You don’t have to have a network operator to launch a mobile service,”” he said.

This year’s Symbian Expo is subtitled “”The Smart phone show”” and several vendors, including Nokia and Son Ericsson, are showcasing their most sophisticated handsets for the enterprise market. But Cap Gemini’s survey showed concerns over the growing complexity of many devices. Sheedy said 35 per cent of the 25 to 34 age group would prefer a simpler phone, as would 60 per cent of the 35 to 44 age group. While it might be expected that those over 40 would shy away from advanced handsets, Sheedy said he was surprised by the responses from the lower end of the curve.

We’re used to thinking about bells and whistles – isn’t that what young people want?”” he asked. “”It’s an assumption we have to be careful with.””

Though Cap Gemini conducted most of its research among consumers, Sheedy said the concerns mirror those of enterprise purchasers, who still see voice as their primary application. “”If you have an application that makes up 75 per cent of your revenue, you know you should have your best product marketing manager on voice, but that’s not what’s happening,”” he said, adding that the cost concerns remain high among corporate buyers. “”They don’t get their bonuses from for increasing productivity. They get their bonuses for keeping the price down.””

Cap Gemini interviewed 27 operators in Europe for its survey and 1,216 cell phone users, 30 per cent of which were in the 25-34 age group. About 46 per cent were post-paid users and 54 per cent were prepaid users.

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