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Blackberry Mobility Featured Article


December 14, 2009

'Get Back to Basics,' Consumers Say

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor


With industry attention focused on mobile data and smartphones as the new driver of revenue, a new survey of 1,300 consumers suggests growing demand for phones that have better connectivity, better audio and are simpler to use.
 
“In many cases, vendors have been so focused on making complex camera phones, music phones or mobile Internet devices, they have lost sight of the fact that phone functionality is mediocre at best,” said Frank Dickson, an In-Stat (News - Alert) analyst. “How often have we seen someone with a finger in one ear and a cell phone pressed to the other ear, desperately trying to hear a conversation?”

 
“Our survey responses suggest that there is an opportunity for vendors to develop phones with great audio quality, robust connectivity and antenna features that are simply easy to use,” Dickson said.
 
In-Stat believes that, in the short term, a limited competitive advantage can be created by bringing to market new hardware features and form factors.
 
Real advantages, however, will be created through improved performance of existing features, including better displays, audio, high-definition video and connectivity, Dickson says.
 
Rugged phones will also become more popular, he adds. Devices with demonstrably-better battery life might also have a window of opportunity.
 
Voice performance, despite other issues such as recurring pricing and handset exclusivity,  remain one of the main ways that customers can differentiate between service providers, some would argue. And that appears to be a growing issue.
 
Given identical network conditions, not all handsets perform equally well. Most people just assume the network is at fault when a call is dropped. But there are times when the device itself can cause a call to drop, according to Nigel Wright, vice president of Spirent Communications (News - Alert). Push e-mail can cause a call to drop, for example.
 
The reason for such impairments is that handset processing power has to support any number of operations, and devices typically are optimized for one or more functions. Since every engineering decision must involve trade-offs, devices optimized for other functions might suffer in the voice area.
 
The problem might be that, in optimizing devices for data performance, less attention is being paid to voice performance. That is going to create a business opportunity for manufacturers or carriers who can bring “voice-optimized” devices to market. For a business historically based on voice, that might seem odd. But it is a measure of the trade-offs that must be made in a mobile business that now is based on multiple applications, services and revenue streams.
 
Whatever else smartphones have to do, they have to handle voice well. Phone (News - Alert) calls remain the most common method of communication, with 99 percent of respondents to a recent Prompt Communications survey saying they regularly use the phone to connect with friends and family.
 
That isn't to say other communication modes are vastly less important. Mobile Facebook (News - Alert) is used by 96 percent of respondents, even more than report using text messaging – 93 percent – and e-mail, 91 percent.
 
When asked which method they used most frequently, most participants chose text messaging – 37 percent – followed by Facebook and then the phone, 28 percent. Users probably figure any mobile device should handle voice easily. But the new In-Stat survey suggests it is not something suppliers can take for granted.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison


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