Emerging TechnologyMobileSmaller Is Better Than Smarter

Smaller Is Better Than Smarter

While feature-rich mobile phones are all the rage in Japan, Americans would rather shrink their devices than take pictures or play music.

Mobile phone owners are more impressed by size than function, according to a 2003 Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s corporate parent) report. Roughly one-third of the 2,773 U.S. respondents to a Jupiter survey indicated that small size was the most important feature when selecting a wireless device, and other options lagged considerably behind.

Most Important Cell Phone Features
Small size 34%
Polyphonic ring tones 19%
Large, sharp color screen 12%
PDA functionality 12%
Ability to use MMS 10%
Ability to browse Internet 9%
Ability to use Bluetooth 7%
Ability to take/send small photos 6%
Ability to download/play games 4%
Ability to play music 3%
Other 10%
Not planning to buy cell phone 43%
Source: Jupiter/Ipsos-NPD Consumer Survey

Jupiter found that given the choice of a free basic cell phone or paying for a cell phone with a built-in PDA, digital camera or MP3 player (also known as a smartphone) – a choice offered by nearly all U.S. carriers – most U.S. consumers were not willing to pay as little as $49.

Yankee Group estimated that sales of smartphone and feature-rich phones reached approximately 700,000 units in the U.S. during 2002, and their research indicates that nearly half of the 6 percent of consumers that have both a PDA and a wireless phone would prefer one device for voice, messaging, and mobile computing.

But while most Americans are reluctant to adopt converged devices, basic cell phones are the exception in Japan, as camera phones and videophones become the norm. Research from Gartner Dataquest indicates that camera phones account for nearly three-quarters of the total handsets in Japan – up from roughly 57 percent at the end of 2002. Japanese mobile phone sales totaled 11.9 million units in the first quarter of 2003, compared with 8.9 million during the same period in 2002.

Jupiter Research Analyst Avi Greengart attributes the high Japanese smartphone adoption rate to factors that include an advanced wireless infrastructure, a rapid electronics upgrade cycle, and cultural proclivities.

“Japan has a more robust wireless infrastructure than the U.S., and has had more advanced networks for quite some time. Up until the last year or so, you simply couldn’t do much on U.S. wireless networks other than talk,” commented Greengart.

“Several years back, many Americans had Internet access at home or work, while most Japanese did not. At the time, the Internet and informational services offered wirelessly in Japan were compelling for the Japanese. As those wireless services have improved along with the infrastructure, the Japanese continue to use them even as they increasingly have dialup and broadband Internet access as well,” Greengart continued.

Western Europe is expected to have a camera phone surge too, with Gartner predicting that two-thirds of the mobile phones sold will sport an embedded camera feature by 2006.

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