The Evolving Behavior Of Smartphone Owners

"A phone is a phone. A  phone stays at home. A phone doesn't go with me in the car or out on the town." Not quite the skill set of Dr. Seuss, but this is a direct quote from my 78-year-old friend from the pool. She just disconnected her home phone and now relies solely on a new iPhone 4.

Our clients have watched their traffic (and sales) from mobile devices explode in 2010. Much of this excitement stems from their observations of those customers with either iPads or what we call smartphones — all of the Apple, Android, BlackBerry, HP/Palm, Symbian, and Windows devices consumers own. Adoption of these devices has been growing rapidly. It is hard to name a media outlet, retailer, airline, hotel, bank, insurance provider, fast food company, beverage company, or consumer packaged goods company without an iPhone and/or Android application today. When these same consumer product and service companies look forward at smartphone sales forecasts for the next couple of years, the excitement around the potential opportunities is even greater. They are thinking, "... more smartphone owners will mean more downloads of my applications will mean more sales via the mobile device ...." Will it?

My colleagues Charles Golvin and Thomas Husson and I began to describe this phenomenon in our recent Mobile Technographics report. Will consumers move up the ladder? Or leap over steps? Will increased smartphone adoption translate directly into more usage and sales to companies with mobile services?

I offer two more personal observations.

First, I gave my 22-month-old nephew a first-generation iPhone this summer. I took the SIM card out, and he uses it like an iPod. He's savvier than his grandmother at this point in the use of the device — at least for applications. He doesn't make phone calls, take photos, or use the Internet. He will be a SuperConnected with his first phone. He won't have a credit card or the means to make purchases though for another 12-15 years, and he'll have no need to book a hotel room or a flight for at least as long.  

My father is 68 years old. At one time, he was an early adopter — he had a cell phone back in 1985. Did you? Two years ago, he had a phone with a 12-digit keypad. Today, he is the proud owner of a Motorola Droid. For the first 8 months, he used it as a simple phone and cursed the fact that it had so much functionality and a too-small QWERTY keyboard. A young employee of his helped him set up email, etc. Then about two months ago on a visit to SF he committed to "learning how to use the darn thing." (There was some pressure from his daughter re "falling behind.") Now, my brother and I feel like we're dealing with a teenager = Dad with Droid. He's CONSTANTLY texting and challenging himself to being the first to find an answer with his phone. He uses the map, mobile Internet, Facebook, etc. We were driving to my brother's from the airport on Friday when my brother said he needed to pick up a bike helmet for his son. My Dad actually challenged me that he could find one faster than I could. (I won this contest with Target's in-store inventory search ... phew.) While in the store, we're looking at a wall of helmets and wondering which to buy. I suggest a barcode scan to connect to some reviews ... my Dad has his barcode scanning application open and is scanning a code before I can get my phone out of my pocket. I shared some "big" personal news with him last week  ... he sent an SMS. Seriously. He texted me. He's gone from Talker to SuperConnected in less than three months.

My mother is dissatisfied with the game selection on her pink Sanyo ... I think she'll leapfrog from Communicator (barely) to Entertainer before her 69th birthday.

How consumers use mobile devices including their phones is becoming more complex as adoption of sophisticated devices goes beyond the tech optimist early adopters. Look for more research coming from the Consumer Product Strategy group in 2011.

So what about Carole? I suspect she'll be making purchases on  the iPhone before long, but she's not going to take the phone to the grocery store anytime soon ... because "... a phone is a phone and a phone stays home."