Fancy Features Don't Sell Cell Phones

Advanced features aren't moving mobile phones off shelves in the U.S. even though more users are adopting them, according to a recent survey by research company J.D. Power and Associates.

Price and design are the biggest reasons consumers give for buying particular handsets, said Kirk Parsons, an analyst at the Westlake Village, California, company. Few respondents said they chose their current phone because it had a particular feature. The company surveyed 18,740 users in two waves, one last October and one in February. They were allowed to give multiple reasons for the purchase, Parsons said.

U.S. consumers have been slower than those in many European and Asian countries to embrace advanced mobile services and the feature-rich phones that support them. The J.D. Power results suggest the stereotypical voice-centric, free-phone-using U.S. consumer still exists even as the country's major mobile operators build faster networks and applications such as text messaging and image-sharing gradually grow in use.

Just 12 percent of the users cited a color screen as a reason for buying their phone, the same percentage who were swayed by the fact that it had a digital camera. In addition, only 12 percent said they bought a particular model because it offered a speakerphone, though 26 percent of respondents said they use that feature regularly--three to five times per week. The phone's overall variety of features was cited by 16 percent of the consumers.

Money Matters

Style was mentioned as a buying factor by 39 percent of the users, making it the single most popular answer, but cost considerations were the biggest reason overall, Parsons said. Getting something for nothing was the most-cited cost factor: 29 percent said they chose their phone because it was free. By the same token, 20 percent cited reduced price and 16 percent mentioned rebates. Choice of calling plan also influenced consumers, with 16 percent saying their phone was the only one offered with the plan they wanted.

Consumers' use of advanced features is gradually growing, the study showed. Use of the most popular special feature, speakerphones, rose from 22 percent of respondents in the previous survey, which was taken in March and June of last year. Regular use of MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) for sharing audio and video content rose 29 percent in that period, though only about 6 percent of respondents used it, Parsons said. In the latest survey, 19 percent said they used a camera phone regularly, up from 14 percent in the previous results, and SMS (Short Message System) users rose to 22 percent from 19 percent.

Ease of use was a frequently cited factor in choice of phones, Parsons said. The ideal is to be able to start up a special service in just one or two keystrokes, he said.

"As they layer these new services on the phone, it's going to be more difficult to get to that nirvana," Parsons said.

Consumers were most satisfied with phones from Sanyo Electric, followed by LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, J.D. Power said. Satisfaction was based on physical design, operation, features, and battery function.

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