Smartphone Tracker

UK consumers increasingly choose phones for their apps

Paul Nesbitt

This year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was all about the mobile networks trying to reestablish their stranglehold over an industry, which has been transformed by the iPhone.

No longer do many people define their mobile phone experience according to which network they are with. Increasingly they are all about the apps they use on their phone. And in the case of the iPhone, they download their apps directly from Apple, or if they have an Android handset, directly from Google, who will also sell you a handset directly from its website.

That's what the announcement of the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) was all about - an attempt to wrest back control of the smartphone experience by the networks.

And now, a recently released survey by TNS of 27,000 phone users, in 35 markets around the world, has revealed that 13% of mobile phone users buy handsets based on what content and applications they offer. That's 13% of all mobile users, not just smartphone users. By comparison, 9% select their handset based on the brand of phone, while 12% make their decision based on which network they use.

In the UK, 51% of UK phone users said they chose their phones based on handset brand, while 24% said that it was content and applications - like Facebook and Twitter, that fundamentally their mobile experience. This was just below the 25%, whose chief loyalty is to their network.

Amongst 16 to 30-year olds TNS found that 37% of respondents considered content and applications most important, compared to just 12% who considered their network to be key.

'We are seeing profound changes in the way that people make purchase decisions and in the brands that are most meaningful to them,' observed Stephen Yap, group director at TNS Technology.

'While established handset makers are standing their ground, network operators are clearly under pressure from the rise of the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter. These content providers are increasingly capturing consumers' loyalties and are leading the way in bringing users the benefits of the latest mobile technologies,' said Yap.

These are the kinds of sentiments that terrify the networks, who have traditionally kept handset makers on a tight leash, controlling what features they put into their phones, and in some cases even refusing to switch on built-in features they didn't like.

With today's smartphones, networks have two competing loyalties to deal with, and you can be sure that we haven't heard the last of the WAC, no matter how unlikely a proposition it appears.


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