March 25, 2008

Mobile internet moves into the mainstream

John Horrigan’s recent data memo on mobile internet access spotlights a growing trend: consumers are increasingly relying on mobile technologies (cell phones, smartphones, PDAs, etc.) to stay connected on the go. In the memo, Horrigan cites recent Pew Internet data showing that Americans now list their cell phones as the most difficult technology to give up. At the same time, the percentage of consumers saying they would have a hard time giving up their Blackberry or other wireless email device has increased six-fold in the last five years, from 6% of American adults in 2002 to 36% in 2007.

These data support current trends within the business sector, and recent reports from some of the country’s biggest technology companies back up Pew’s findings. Americans want the freedom to access the internet anywhere and at any time, and technology is currently evolving to meet this demand.

Last week, Google announced it has reached a “watershed moment in terms of mobile internet usage.” This announcement occurred in conjunction with the introduction of new mobile software that places a Google search window on the home screen of phones running Windows Mobile software. According to Google, past versions of their search software have increased the speed of mobile searches by up to 40 percent in recent months, spurring more users online.

Google says the introduction of the iPhone last summer has also played a major role in the increase of mobile web searching. Apple still stands behind its prediction of 10 million iPhones sold by year-end 2008, and Google says iPhone users perform as much as 50 times more Web searches on their iPhones than standard cell phone users.

Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to focus solely on the mobile operating system market, predicting its license sales to top 20 million by the end of its fiscal year in June. Yesterday, the company announced it expects Windows Mobile sales to outpace the sale of total smartphones over the next few years, with Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Palm already offering devices running Microsoft’s mobile OS. The addition of Google’s latest software should make Windows Mobile even more attractive to users.

As Horrigan writes in a separate memo on mobile access, cell phone users in general represent a diverse group. Groups such as older Americans and minorities experience statistically significant differences between their cell phone and internet usage. For example, while 50% of Americans age 65 and older use a cell phone, only 37% of this age bracket uses the internet. As the market for internet-friendly cell phones expands over the next several years and the price of these gadgets subsequently decreases in response to demand, it will be interesting to see if there is a corresponding decrease in the gap between usage levels and various demographic groups.