Mobile apps far outpace mobile browsing, reveals study

When it comes to internet useage via mobile devices, applications far outpace browsing, even though both types of activity are available on almost two-thirds of the phones used by urban cellular users, reveals a new study.

The study, “Mobile Internet in South Africa 2010” by respected research firm World Wide Worx, shows that usage of specific applications like Facebook Mobile and mobile instant messaging (IM) client MXit are used more than accessing the web via the phone’s browser, also known as WAP browsing.

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The study was conducted via face-to-face interviews among South African urban cellphone users aged 16 and older, representing 16-million South Africans.

While 28% of the urban cellular market is using mobile IM, as many as 65% have the capacity on their phones, meaning that only 4.5-million out of 10.5-million potential mobile IM users actually use it. In many cases, an application has been installed on the phone, and the owner may even have registered to use the service, but is not in fact a user.

And, while 60% of users in this market have phones that can browse the internet, only 21% report that they use this form of mobile internet access.

“It is quite startling to find how many have these features on their phones but don’t use them, either out of ignorance or because of cost concerns,” says World Wide Worx’s Arthur Goldstuck.

The findings suggest, on the surface, that more than half of urban cellular users –- 8.5-million -– are capable of accessing e-mail on their phones, and as many as 60% –- 9.5-million -– are able to browse on their phones.

The implications of these numbers are significant: in one fell swoop, they would turn the SA Internet user base from the 5.3-million reported by World Wide Worx at the end of 2009 to 9.6-million.

Add Instant Messaging to the mix, and the total becomes 10.56-million — exactly double that of the Internet user base at the end of last year.

“The truth is, many people with these applications on their phones do no use them and do not even know how to use them,” says Goldstuck. “It is clear that the cellphone has the potential to take South Africans across the digital divide, but the phones themselves need to become more user-friendly, and a vast amount of consumer education is needed.”

The study is backed by First National Bank (FNB) which has an interest in the mobile internet given that cellphone banking accounts for about two million of its registered customers.

Ravesh Ramlakan, CEO of FNB Cellphone Banking Solutions, says that, while the overall cellphone banking service has grown more rapidly than online banking, the adoption of FNB’s mobile banking WAP site has been relatively slow.

“Customers either do not know how to access it via their cellphone, or their phone needs to be configured first in order to access. However, with technology lifecycles, the adoption to internet banking via the cellphone will feature more prominently in future,” he says.

The mobile internet defined
For several years, the question of how many South Africans use the internet from their cellphones has been veiled in confusion, with claimed numbers ranging from half a million to 15-million. This has largely been as a result of confusion over what constitutes the mobile internet.

During the past year, the key players in the debate, World Wide Worx and the South African Mobile Marketing Association, agreed to a framework within which they would report the key statistics for mobile internet usage.

Tier 1: The WAP Internet (access to WAP gateways, which includes mobile versions of brand sites, mobile versions of traditional and new media publisher sites, downloads of ringtones, games and other content, which may only involve a single link from the phone; the typical user of the WAP Internet is not always aware of using the Internet).

Tier 2: The Mobile Application Internet (usage of “stand-alone” applications on the phone that rely on data feeds, such as Mxit, Gmail, and Maps; the typical user is aware of using data, but not of fully accessing the Internet)

Tier 3: Mobile Web Browsing (usage of a web browser to access the World Wide Web from the phone –- understood by most users to represent full Internet access)

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