For Mobile Qualitative Research, Catering to ‘Dumb’ Phones Still Makes Sense

Think the whole world has switched to smart phones? Well, you’re wrong. Sure, the latest estimates show that there are more than 5 billion mobile phone users in the world, but the majority of those people (3.8 billion) are in developing countries—and they’re using so-called dumb phones.

Dumb phones? The phrase, coined by Navin Williams of Fugumobile and James Fergusson of TNS Global, refers to all of those non-smart phones (you know, like the one you probably carried as recent as five years ago).

Williams and Fergusson presented a paper on bridging the digital divide in qualitative research in emerging markets at the ESOMAR Asia Pacific 2011 conference, held last week in Melbourne, Australia. In their paper—and in this blog post on—they point out that there is still an industry bias toward smart phone-based research studies, but that there shouldn’t be. Here’s why:

“The smart-only approach is highly detrimental to the growth potential of mobile market research which seeks consumers of all hues—smart phone-owning and non-smart phone. In 2010 CISCO Systems, considered the gatekeeper of data networks (both online and mobile), undertook a global study on mobile data traffic with projections up to 2014. The results are well in line with other similar industry studies. On mobile smart phones it not surprisingly predicts that in North America and Western Europe, 2010 penetration levels of 33 percent and 28 percent will rise to 54 percent and 49 percent by 2014. At the same time the total smart phone global penetration will rise from 10 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2014.”

So what’s the takeaway? When doing mobile qualitative research, stay away from online research software that caters only to smart phones. If you don’t, you’ll be alienating a still very substantial population of mobile users.

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