The iPhone: So Easy a Three Year Old Can Use It

I learned something surprising while my mother, sister, and three-year-old niece were lounging around the living room during the holiday break: my niece is iPhone savvy. Evelyn, who was seated next to me on the couch, turned to my mother and said “Mimi, can I show Uncle Davis your iPhone?” Evelyn picked up the phone and with a few swipes of her finger brought up the Lightsaber application, which displays an image of a “Star Wars” Lightsaber and makes that signature whooshing sound when you swing the phone around. Giggling away, she hacked her stunned uncle into virtual pieces with a purple iPhone Lightsaber.

This incident was instructive on a couple levels. First, this device has mass appeal that other smartphones don’t have. There are many phones out there with full keyboards and big screens that have the same features as the iPhone. Open-source mobile applications are supposed to be the iPhone’s big breakthrough, but many phones, even ones you wouldn’t call “smart,” have had the ability to run Java-based games and utilities for years. Finding, downloading, and using those Java apps is another story, however.

Where the iPhone stands alone is with its ease of use — even a toddler can use it. If a device is simple and intuitive, consumers will make heavy use of all the features. In November, mobile ad network and analytics firm AdMob reported that Apple devices — iPhones and iPod Touches — accounted for 32 percent of all smartphone traffic and 10 percent of all traffic on its network.

The other thing this anecdote tells us: iPhones are democratizing the smartphone market; they aren’t just urban professionals’ devices. When my mother bought her iPhone 3G this summer, she was an outlier for her demographic. But grandmothers with iPhones are going to become more commonplace as prices drop. AT&T has been selling refurbished 3G iPhones at its online store for as little as $99. As of the Q3 2008, Nielsen Mobile projected about 3.6 million iPhones in use in the United States compared to about 9.1 million BlackBerry devices and 7.7 million Windows Mobile phones. If Apple phones accounted for 10 percent of mobile Web traffic before the holiday season, when iPhones were selling for $200, is 20 or 25 percent share of mobile Web traffic possible in 2009? Here are some tips for marketers on how to deal with these developments.

Stay Consumer-Centric

Don’t run out and build an iPhone application today. First, look to see if Apple’s expanding market share has reached your target yet. For example, BlackBerry, which still over indexes among the most affluent users, is still vastly the preferred device for corporate users. Also, keep an eye on AdMob’s monthly mobile metric reports, available free on its Web site. It’s in a very good position to compare the mobile Internet usage among devices. Its December report may be out before you read this column. M:Metrics and Nielsen Mobile release their data, which has richer demographics, about 30 days post. The shakeout from the holiday rush and price cuts should show up in their January reports, available end of February. If you don’t subscribe to one of those services, they still post key findings on their Web sites for free.

Take Advantage of the iPhone Mobile Experience

The iPhone’s Web browser offers a much more robust mobile Web experience than other smartphones; marketers should make use of this. Most mobile Web publishers and ad networks can target your ads to specific devices. You should test out richer creative targeted to iPhone users. If your company or client has a mobile Web site, you should upgrade the experience for site visitors with iPhones. This is a cheaper, less risky step than building an app.

Be App Savvy

Building a successful iPhone application is tough. It may make sense to partner with an existing application developer first. Check out what’s popular in the iPhone App Store and whether there are existing applications that fit your brand. The application developers’ name will be right there; call them up. They may insert an ad in their application or brand the whole thing for you. Some mobile Web networks, like AdMob, Millennial Media, and Third Screen Media, have relationships with application developers who are already building, updating, and promoting their applications. More often than not, a brand should let someone else do this work. The Lightsaber application, for example, was updated from its original form and rebranded by LucasArts to promote the latest “Star Wars” video game.

This week, I am heading to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and I’ll looking for more devices that are so easy a toddler can use them.

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