Interesting insights into smartphone behavior

  • Smartphone penetration: Disparity in research findings
  • But growth is soaring and behavior is changing

SO, is our smartphone penetration at 88% or around 30%? Late last month, GfK, a global research firm, released a statement with highlights of its South-East Asia smartphone market survey. Gerard Tan, account director for Digital Technology at GfK Asia, was quoted as saying, “The markets with deepest smartphone penetration are Malaysia and Singapore where levels have already reached a high of 88%.”

But last Tuesday, another research firm, Nielsen, released highlights of its Smartphone Insights Malaysia which included its estimate of 27% as being the smartphone penetration rate in Malaysia.

Interesting insights into smartphone behaviorThe report also revealed some fascinating mobile behavior that will be especially useful for entrepreneurs developing apps for the market (chart).

But before I delve into the behavior part, this ration of smartphone users in Malaysia is bugging me, especially the vast disparity in the two research company reports.

Daily observations tell me that we are probably around the 30%. I was on the LRT on Sunday and observed passengers around me during my 25-min journey each way. I would say that three to four of 10 phone owners were smartphone users. I realised it had become very easy to do such a casual survey as many people seem to carry their phones in their hands now.

Such unscientific and casual observations aside, let’s look at what our big three telcos say.

Celcom Axiata Bhd’s chief financial officer Chari TVT said last December that smartphone penetration had gone from 10% of its base to 18% within one year. He expected the penetration to grow rapidly, fuelled by falling smartphone prices.

This past April, Maxis Communications Bhd vice president and head of Product, Device, Innovation and Roaming, T. Kugan shared that an internal survey done by Maxis last year revealed that 31% of its mobile subscribers are smartphone users.

Meanwhile, an analyst report out in The Edge Financial Daily earlier this year indicated that around 20% of DiGi Telecommunications Bhd customers are smartphone users.

So, these three reports, along with my unscientific LRT survey, convince me that the Nielsen report is more accurate than the GfK one. You got to wonder what the good people at GfK were smoking when they crunched their Malaysian data! I have emailed them to get more details on their super bullish data. (Will update readers when GfK reverts.)

Interesting insights into smartphone behaviorI think Hanisa Harun’s observation is important. The global executive director (pic) of Nielsen’s Telecom Practice says, “Smartphones present opportunities for growth across a range of sectors, but companies must realise that users’ engagement with their phones is fundamentally different and deeper than feature phone users, and different again from how they use their PCs and laptops.”

This made me recall my recent interview with Lam Swee Kim, group general manager, New Media and Integrated Marketing of Media Prima Bhd.

Lam said that Media Prima was discovering that users were increasingly using their tablets and smartphones while watching TV. The days when TV had our attention exclusively are going – which is why TV manufacturers are adding Internet access to their TVs. It is an attempt to re-target the user’s attention span back to the TV screen.

But it may be a losing battle as consumers, especially the digital natives, like to keep their Internet access devices separate from their TV viewing. One behavioral change that is also driving this proliferation of devices into our lives is privacy. That may seem an ironic driver of this change when digital users are already sharing so much about themselves online, but what they want is their personal space -- the tablet and smartphone give them that while making it interactive and social, while TV viewing is still very much a sharing and passive interaction.

App developers, do take note of these developments as you work on your version of the mega successful Angry Birds game. And make sure the mobile version is a killer.

While our smartphone penetration is around 30%, Nielsen’s report shows that out of 58% of Malaysian mobile users surveyed who are likely to upgrade their phones in the next six months, four in five (79%) plan to buy a smartphone.

So, we will be getting to around 80% penetration … just not today, GfK.

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