Is the Smartphone the Next PC Device?

More than half of the people who use desktop computers are willing to trade the PC for a smartphone for Internet use, illustrating how mobile devices are fulfilling the promise of next-generation computing.

That’s a top finding of a new IBM survey polling 600 people in the U.S., China and U.K. on how what they like and don’t like about mobile Internet use. Mobile device Internet activities including communications, navigation and information services are predicted to be most popular as the user base grows to 5.8 billion by 2013 — a 30 percent jump over today’s current mobile Internet user population.

“Worldwide adoption of the mobile phone as the preferred device for accessing the Internet is just around the corner,” Sungyoul Lee, global consulting leader, electronics industry, IBM, said in a statement. “The time is now for companies to develop intuitive applications and services that allow people to effortlessly access and use the Internet while on the go.”

That message has sunk in with smartphone players and wireless carriers that are all attempting to outdo each other to offer the latest-and-greatest devices and advanced mobile services. This week, for example, AT&T announced a new video share application on its new Samsung Epix that lets you talk while streaming live video. Google’s G1 GPS offering provides real-time street view to help T-Mobile users find a destination. It’s all part and parcel of a quest to bolster the subscriber base and lure new mobile device customers who haven’t yet jumped on the smartphone bandwagon. And, if recent earnings are a bellwether, the push for better applications, speedier networks and slick and sleek handsets is paying off.

While AT&T’s profits didn’t hit analyst expectations, there is no denying that a 50 percent spike in wireless data use played an integral part in both revenue and iPhone sale increases. The carrier added 2 million new subscribers just in the third quarter of 2008 and has sold 2.4 million 3G iPhones since Apple launched its second handset in June.

PCs Aren’t Dead Yet

The IBM study said 39 percent of those polled expect to increase Internet use on a mobile device by at least 40 percent by 2011. The greatest growth is happening within emerging Internet markets, such as China, whose mobile device consumers are the fastest adopting society of the mobile Web.

When it comes to mobile device services, it’s all about getting somewhere, social networking, instant messaging and keeping up with news. The study reported 71 percent of respondents plan to increase usage of those activities going forward. Yet some tasks are still PC-bound, as a majority of consumers prefer to do online banking, stock trades and general search on a desktop.

Another interesting tidbit for market players is that mobile device users are brand loyalists. That means if they use Google for online PC searches they want to use Google on a mobile device. The same holds true for email and IM applications.

When choosing a mobile device users like large screens, high resolution, internal memory and fast data transfers. Such features, as the Apple iPhone proves, can be smartphone form factors.

The IBM study, which expands on the vendor’s May 2008 “Go Mobile, Grow” study from its Institute for Business Value, recommends that mobile device vendors spend time researching and understanding consumer behavior and needs. Device production recommendations include establishing a reliable, cost-efficient and scalable infrastructure, and boost processing power, memory, resolution, screen size and intuitive user interfaces.

“Specifically device makers need to think about how to integrate technologies such as nano projectors and projected virtual keyboards,” states the study.

The adoption of open standards and open source is predicted to grow and nurture the mobile device ecosystem, according to the study. That’s obvious good news to Google and the Open HandSet Alliance as the two partners just released the first Android mobile platform on the T-Mobile G1.

Adapted from

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