By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The days when a cellphone's desirability was in direct proportion to small size are fading like a wireless conversation in a tunnel.
In a recent NPD study on handset usage, consumers said they still value small size, but only slightly more than one-third want a smaller phone that fits easily in their pockets. However, even small handsets can accommodate many of the communication and multimedia options available today. Furthermore, consumers seek some features that could lead to a larger handset. For example, 30 percent value a larger screen, and one-quarter want PDA organizer features that might include a built-in thumb keyboard.
With even basic free cellphones now including more than voice-calling features, consumers are looking for technologies that ease call placement and display. Almost 43 percent want a color screen, and 41 percent want voice-activated dialing. Close behind is speakerphone capability, which is desired by 40 percent of consumers.
In general, these features don't lead directly to revenue for cellular carriers. Although carriers can bill for voice dialing, it can also be included in the cellphone itself.
Nearly 36 percent of consumers want a built-in still camera. This, too, is a hardware feature, but it has fueled an explosion in digital imaging on handsets that has led to revenue streams ranging from sending and receiving picture fees, photofinishing, and over-the-air sales of handset photo organizers based on technologies such as Brew.
In the mainstream of today's communications features, about one-third of consumers express a desire for short messaging, e-mail access and Web browsing on their next phone, but these wish-list items are not nearly as popular as the longer battery life sought by almost 70 percent of consumers. This is important to consider since accessing more data features not only reduces battery life, but the faster processors and larger screens that accompany smarter phones drain batteries as well.
Not surprisingly, fewer consumers demand features that perform best when paired with a high-speed data network, although some garner significant interest. The most popular among these is GPS, cited by nearly 30 percent of consumers. With assisted GPS now integrated into Qualcomm chipsets, this functionality should soon reach more American users. Also spreading from its once exclusive home within Nextel Communications is push-to-talk technology. Slightly more than one-quarter of consumers indicate a desire for push-to-talk technology
Bringing up the rear are Bluetooth, sought by just 10 percent of consumers; a built-in video player, desired by 9 percent; and enhanced game controls, sought by just 5 percent. The low showing for Bluetooth is another discouraging sign for a technology that has been slow out of the gate in North America. However, it indicates strong interest relative to Bluetooth's installed base among households, which NPD found to be less than 2 percent.
The low interest in enhanced controls was somewhat surprising given the popularity of cellphone gaming. However, nearly 14 percent of consumers report dissatisfaction with gaming on their cellphones.
It's critical that manufacturers and carriers ease consumers into advanced functionality. More than 21 percent of consumers say they don't use any special features on their phone. Handset manufacturers must do more to encourage exploration of advanced data features to a public that by and large still sees the handset as a voice device.
As screens become larger and interfaces improve, manufacturers need to seek alternatives to the labyrinth of menus under which many options are buried today. Newer smartphones, such as PalmOne's Treo 650 and RIM's 7100t, reflect an understanding that great data access must be present within a voice-centric device. By providing the new within the context of the familiar, consumers can come to appreciate their cellphones in ways that reward both the carriers and themselves.
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