Mobile Phones Move Beyond Voice

Wireless phone owners are embracing a myriad of mobile services, according to research from Enpocket. Based on 1,000 telephone interviews from February 2004 to April, the survey revealed that the mobile usage gap between the UK and U.S. was narrowing, despite the UK’s earlier adoption of some services.

Currently a cultural phenomenon in the UK, text messaging is catching on with U.S. mobile phone users. More than one-third, or roughly 38 million, of U.S. wireless phone owners use SMS [define], and increased usage will likely spur further adoption.

“We believe the key driver of SMS usage is consumer education and the network effect. Consumers don’t know how to text or who to text. Once they start to text, they use the medium more and more. As use of the medium grows, the network effect means more and more communication flows through SMS, hence more consumers join to be part of the communication,” commented Rob Lawson, GM, Americas, Enpocket. “Certainly better handsets play a major part in encouraging consumers to try text, and to make this an easier activity for them,” continued Lawson.

Texters are integrating this fairly new communication tool with more traditional forms of media, creating opportunities for crossover marketing. Enpocket found that 2 percent of SMS users have sent a text message to a number on product packaging; 1.6 percent have texted to a TV show; 1.3 percent have sent a text message in respond to an ad; and 1.1 percent have texted to a radio show.

Another type of mobile messaging is gaining popularity too. The growth of “picture messaging,” or MMS, [define] will mirror the growth spurt of camera phones as the units are poised to overtake conventional digital cameras for images. Enpocket found that 12 percent of U.S. mobile users already own a device with a built-in camera, and 9 million adults have already used MMS in the three months prior to the survey.

“Once a consumer has taken a picture, they typically want to share it with others. As the network of MMS-capable handsets grows, sending pictures between phones by MMS increases rapidly via the network effect. Grandparents buy an MMS phone to get pictures of their grandchildren, sports fans buy phones to get highlights of their team’s games,” commented Lawson.

The survey also revealed that 13 percent of U.S. adult mobile users have downloaded a standard ringtone in the last 3 months; 8 percent have downloaded a polyphonic tone; and 4 percent have downloaded a Java [define] or Brew [define] game to their phone (compared to 6 percent in the UK).

“The large color screens of camera phones also make the cell phone an interesting entertainment device – and we are seeing a large uptake in the download of Java and Brew games to handsets as consumers begin to use their phones in this way.” Lawson continues, “We also anticipate there will be an uptake of other downloadable applications such as city guides, videos, etc, though games will dominate for the next two years.”

Enpocket found that mobile phone Internet usage (WAP) [define] is currently enjoying a 12 percent penetration rate, and Ipsos-Insight reported 145 percent growth in wireless Internet usage in the past year. Further wireless Internet growth is expected to be motivated by the ubiquitous mobile phones, as Web-enabled handsets and smartphones move into the mainstream.

“WAP (or mobile Internet) adoption has partly been slowed historically by an unattractive, slow, text-based user interface. Color camera phones also tend to support GPRS [define] or 2.5 [define] connectivity and also icon-based graphical interfaces. This makes WAP a far more compelling user experience, and hence is fuelling strong WAP adoption,” Lawson noted.

Enpocket currently estimates mobile phone penetration at 53 percent of the U.S. adult population. Ipsos-Insight measured 30 percent growth in mobile phone ownership in 2003 – five times the growth experienced by the PC industry.

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