10 things you need to know about the way we use mobile phones

The mobile phone is the future. It’s prosperity, hope, development and empowerment all rolled into one handy device with a camera and an FM radio. What we do with our cellphones matters, wherever you are.

Given all of this, it was hardly surprising that the meeting room tech media were gathered to hear the latest results from the Mobility 2012 survey conducted by research company World Wide Worx and sponsored by financial giant First National Bank (FNB) was so crowded. Based on interviews with a nationally representative sample, the Mobility 2012 project consists of two reports, The Mobile Consumer in SA 2012 and The Mobile Internet in SA 2012.

The insights contained in this data offer an overview of the progress made since the research was last released in 2010, and a clue to future developments.

So, what’s the story so far? Much of it was to be expected: data spend is eating into voice, while mobile browsing has increased. Blackberry is “rocketing” while access to Facebook (22% to 38%) and Twitter (six percent to 12%) have doubled. Interestingly, internet porn has dropped, but that’s more likely to be the result of respondent embarrassment because of face-to-face interviews. Google, Wikipedia and News24 do well, but YouTube doesn’t feature at all, the result, says World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck, of an “unsatisfying and expensive” experience.

Rural customers are making greater use of cellphone banking to make payments, check balances and buy prepaid electricity. Vodacom and MTN still dominate the operator landscape; perhaps surprisingly, Nokia still dominates with 50% of the handset market, while fewer respondents are interested in replacing their current phone. FNB leads the way in cellphone banking and mobile money.

Some of the highlights you’ll want to cut and paste into your next PowerPoint presentation include:

1. Don’t leave voicemail, BBM me

Data now comprises 12% of the average user’s mobile spend up from eight percent, while voice is down from 77% to 74%. SMS has remained stable at 12%.

2. We’re browsing more than ever
The number of people browsing on their phones has increased from 33% to 41% of users. Sixty-one percent of urban users browse the internet on their phones. 27% of respondents accessed the internet via their phones, five percent via laptop or PC and 27% using both.

2. Instant messaging is big. Very big
BBM use has risen by 467% over the past 18 months, while — perhaps even more remarkably — WhatsApp has gone from 0% to 26% of adult cellphone users. Mxit has remained stable at 23%. Ninety eight of Blackberry users in South Africa use BBM, the highest proportion of any market.

4. Facebook access has doubled
Accessed by 38% of respondents, it’s fair to say that Facebook is the weekly gossip mag of the web in South Africa. Sites like checkfacebook.com claim that around 86% of the internet-browsing population in South Africa have Facebook accounts; they clearly don’t take mobile use into account, but Facebook has clearly gone mainstream.

5. Email has increased
More respondents are accessing email via their mobile devices, up from 28% in 2010 to 38% in the latest round of research. The death of email, routinely predicted, has been greatly exaggerated.

6. Rural users are less satisfied with their services than urban users
But satisfaction levels are remarkably high given the kind of moaning we see on Twitter.

7. Do you really need a new phone? Apparently not
The number of respondents who are not planning to get a new phone (unless, presumably, the current one breaks) has increased to 40% from 34%, while the number of people planning to get a new phone within the next six months has declined to 11% from 23%.

8. It’s not all BlackBerry
Just because we don’t hear the Nokia ringtone as often as we used to, doesn’t mean that Nokia isn’t still big. With 50% of the market, it’s still the dominant player. According to these stats, Samsung is a big loser, declining from 28% to 18%. Blackberry has grown dramatically while iPhone is tiny, with just 1% share. Given Blackberry’s global woes, it’s tempting to wonder whether it’ll end up like Volkswagen’s Citi Golf, which thrived in South Africa long after it was discontinued elsewhere.

9. Twitter has doubled
The number of people using the 140 character-or-less social network has risen from 6% to 12%. Proportionally, this is the biggest growth in the user base after BBM.

10. The most popular feature on phones is an FM radio
There’s also a strong correlation between age, education and use of features on a phone.

Judging by the shift in spend from voice to data, South Africans are putting their money where their mouths are not. “Spend on data is a barometer for the rapid increase both in the number of internet users in South Africa and the intensity with which experienced users engage with the internet,” as Goldstuck stated in the accompanying press release.

Social media platforms, once so vociferously rejected by marketers on the grounds that they were relevant only to the top end of the market, are central to the way in which South Africans experience the mobile internet.

As Goldstuck adds: “This is only the beginning: the social networking genie is out of the bottle. Businesses have to recognize the trend, and begin developing strategies to address it.”



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