Drivers of mobile data uptake in my circle

Now that we have left 2010 behind, I wanted to write a post about something that sort of crystallised over the year: almost my whole family and some of my closest friends – mostly non-geeks – got a data plan for their phone. Here are some paragraphs with reflections of how this happened.

Cost issue

In research I do for telco clients one of the basic findings is that a large barrier to mobile data up take is cost. Some people find the concept of Internet on their phone interesting but are not willing to pay a reasonably high monthly tariff. In this year data plans have come down quite considerably. My Dutch family members all have a data plan of 10€ a month for unlimited (though throttled) Internet. 10€ appears to be psychological barrier and is considered reasonably acceptable.

In addition to cost in itself, we should consider the aspect of contractual commitments. Two of my family members were slightly more sceptical about the usefulness, but as the data plan was optional and they could stop anytime, they made the jump. So far neither have given it up. Giving people the option to trial a data plan for a couple of months is a great way to get them hooked – provided their phone allows them to do something useful with it.

Use cases

It is of course not just a matter of cost, it is just as much about what you can do with it. I have had a data plan for my phone for at least 4 years. Of course I made use of it, but it was more because of the potential than the actual usage. For main stream acceptance to materialise, you need concrete use cases. You need to be able to show someone what it can do for them.

For my Dutch family and some of my friends it was all based on communication and sharing… social networks and instant communication. Before I go into two specific applications, let me say they are not alone. According to TNS’ Digital Life survey (link), social networking and email were the two applications most used on a mobile phone on a daily basis in both the Netherlands and Spain (Disclaimer: I work for TNS). For my family, the two most important applications are Whatsapp and Twitter.

  • Whatsapp (link). Whatsapp is a smartphone based instant messaging platform. The two key characteristics that make it so attractive are that it is multi-platform and extremely easy to configure.  Instant Messaging has existed on mobile phones for a long time, but has never really taken off. I believe this is mainly due to its “complexity”… for a non-techy person to create an IM account, finding the relevant application for your phone, installing it, adding your friends and configuring the application and connection settings is just too much to ask. Whatsapp is simply installed on your phone, and then it goes out to automatically register you an account (based on your telephone number), look through your address book to see whether there are Whatsapp users (your Favourites) and it automatically configures itself as always-on and connected. Even my mother could handle that. Furthermore, it is availably for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Symbian. It is really good mass market IM system that allows you to instantly share text, audio, video and images.
  • Twitter (link). Whatsapp is more suitable for one-to-one communication. Twitter, on the other hand, has allowed my small circle to group-chat and share images right from their phone. We all created protected/closed accounts and using twitter on the phone (through an app, of course) has really brought twitter alive for the family. Again, the nice thing is that twitter is multi platform. Facebook could have been an alternative, but it is more complex while twitter is nice and casual.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the range of smartphones used is quite wide. From the rather basic Nokia 6700 slide that my mother uses to the more advanced iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S and Nexus Ones that others use. In between, we find a Blackberry Curve, a Nokia E72, Nokia E71 and Nokia N8. The nice thing is that those two applications work equally well on all phones. Some have touch screens, others have T9, others a full qwerty, some a rather poor camera, others a very nice camera, but they can all do the basic thing of sharing and connecting with your circle of friends and family.

And this is what has changed in the past year. It has become easy and affordable to enhance and intensify your communication with your phone. Besides that, you can check the weather, see the sports scores, see the news, but that is not what swayed most of my non-techy friends. It was enhanced communication.


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