Mobile Phones, Services Needlessly Complex, Survey Says

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A survey of 400 American and British cell phone users finds widespread dissatisfaction with cellular data services.

By lopsided majorities, these users find setting up their cell phones, and activating and using new data services way too complicated and too confusing. Nearly half say setup issues, including copying call lists and contact information, is the reason they refuse to upgrade to more sophisticated mobile phones. And almost two out of three say they have stopped using mobile applications and services they ordered because they've been unable to iron out problems associated with those services.

Sponsored by Mformation, an Edison, N.J., vendor of software for mobile phone configuration and management, the Web-based survey was done late in 2008 by a U.K. firm, Coleman Parkes, which specializes in IT service and product research. The 400 users were selected because they identified themselves as "heavy" cell phone users (using data services in addition to voice and texting), and also had a home Internet connection.

"Most of us as mobile users have had some frustration in getting mobile applications up and running," says Matthew Bancroft, vice president for Mformation. "But we were surprised to see how uniform that experience was, how strongly people felt about it, and how much of an obstacle it is to getting people to use new data services."

The survey found that 95% of the sample say they're more likely to try new services if setup was easier. With easier setup, 78% say they would change their handsets more often.

In another recent survey, J. D. Power and Assoicates found that when individual phone vendors tackle these problems, customer satisfaction soars. The survey ranked Apple iPhone as the comfortable leader in customer satisfaction, scoring 778 on a 1,000-point scale, with Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, taking second with 703 and Samsung just behind at 701. (Watch a slideshow that pits the iPhone vs. the BlackBerry Storm.)

"By making basic applications and features easy to use and providing functionality in a thin, lightweight device, Apple has performed well in exceeding customer expectations," according to Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services for J.D. Power and Associates.

Users in the Mformation-sponsored study seem to have definite ideas of what "easier" means. According to Mformation, the average reported time to setup a new mobile phone is almost 60 minutes. Most respondents say it should take at most 15 minutes.

The complexity of setup and usability doesn't just intimidate users from trying new data services. It causes an astounding number to give up using services they've already ordered. In the survey, 61% of the sample says they have stopped using a mobile application because of irresolvable problems with it. "People tend to try a new service on a mobile device just a handful of times," Bancroft says. "If it's unsuccessful, they don't use it again on that device."

But the survey didn't break down these responses by age group, so there's no way to see in the sample if younger users find all this easier than do older ones. The overall sample falls almost equally into three age groups: 18-25, 26-35, 36-45. Bancroft says all three groups probably run into similar difficulties.

Some of the complexity may be disappearing as mobile phone users adopt a new generation of full-fledged Web browsers that are specifically designed for mobile devices (Check out our slide show of several of these new browsers.)

Browsing the Web on mobile phones has been cumbersome and awkward with many browsers lacking full HTML rendering, and limited to sites with content designed for small-screen devices. But a whole flock of full Web browsers, including the iPhone's version of Apple's Safari brower and Microsoft's upcoming IE Mobile 6, are giving users a more familiar, comfortable and useable online experience.

Over three-quarters of the sample say they worry about losing mobile data when changing handsets, and 96% say they'd like a service that automatically copies phone numbers, contact information, and even content from an old phone to a new one, according to the survey results.

Though Mformation's software suite supports such copying as part of its backup/restore capabilities, Bancroft says there is no industry standard, or even consistent practice, for what users clearly see as a basic essential service. Some carriers support copying of phone numbers, others may include content, and practices vary on what charges are levied for such services.

Bancroft has first-hand experience with this frustrating diversity. His Apple iPhone offers backup and synchronization to his PC via Apple's iTunes Web site. His Mformation-issued BlackBerry is synchronized via the BlackBerry Enterprise Server with the corporate Microsoft Exchange Server.

In other words, two separate proprietary solutions for separate proprietary smartphone devices and operating systems. In addition, iPhone and BlackBerry users total several millions, a tiny fraction of the nearly 2 billion mobile phone users worldwide, Bancroft says.

This story, "Mobile Phones, Services Needlessly Complex, Survey Says" was originally published by Network World.

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