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Why Smartphone App Reviews Matter

February 16, 2012 - 8 Comments

You could say that I’m an early-adopter of new tech gadgets. That being said, I also continue to use older devices until I find a very good reason to upgrade to something more current.

Maybe that’s why I don’t own a mobile smartphone, because I’ve previously not had a compelling reason to retire my basic feature-phone. That is, until now.

I eagerly adopted video chat capabilities on my notebook PC. It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends and family members that live far away. I use it several times per week.

The business use case for free video services — such as Google Talk and Skype — is equally compelling. As Andrew clearly articulated in his story about video communications, we humans feel drawn to face-to-face interaction.

Anytime, Anywhere Mobile Video Chat

As an early-adopter of legacy videoconferencing for business communications, I remember back when the connection method was two ISDN BRI circuits, and the typical system user interface was not in the least bit user-friendly.

We’ve come a long way since those days. Usability has evolved considerably. Today, we can choose from the lower-quality single user solutions or the very high-quality multi-user solutions — and numerous capability options in between.

I actually like the notion of video chat on a handheld device. Following the launch of the Galaxy Nexus smartphone, I imagined using it for impromptu video chats (personal and business use). I wondered, could I easily start a multi-person chat within a Google+ Hangout on a smartphone?

Excited by that scenario, I reached out to the PR team of my service provider.

I pitched my product application proposal and asked them for a review sample. They declined my request. Perhaps I did a poor job of explaining my proposal, but they seemed puzzled — why would anyone want to read my description of handheld video chat usability?

How Meaningful Reviews Influence Consumers

FYI, U.S. mobile service providers routinely provide new phone samples to traditional trade media journalists for review. Each review is similar — it’s about the processor type, the memory capacity, the screen size and a detailed list of the other noteworthy features and functions.

In contrast, some potential new users of smartphones are like me, they crave more meaningful and relevant insight. They want to know how it will benefit them — by addressing their usage needs and wants.

Granted, some people may not desire this application information and guidance — to them a new smartphone could be an impulse purchase or acquired due to the “cool” factor.

That being said, when a customer selects an expensive product they typically use metrics — measures of benefit value — to define what’s important to them. So, if you want to convince them that yours is the best smartphone for their needs, they’ll want proof.

Crossing the User Segmentation Chasm

If you’ve read the book “Crossing the Chasm,” and you believe that there are customer segments with different expectations, then you will agree that the practice of marketing smartphones in 2012 may require a more thoughtful approach.

As smartphone ownership becomes more mainstream, software application reviews and recommendations could help stimulate new demand. So, who is the best source of information about smartphone app usage benefits? Which company comes to mind?

Perhaps none do. Then that’s an untapped opportunity.

Besides, maybe application-centricity can help to improve mobile service provider customer loyalty — as price-centric competition becomes more intense. Think about it; imagine that you could learn to extract more meaningful value from the user experience.

So, will mobile app utilization become a significant key performance indicator — and a service provider point of differentiation — in the next wave of mobile sector growth?

Check out the Cisco Visual Networking Index data to see the latest growth outlook.

Do you own a smartphone? The Cisco GIST application will help you quickly understand what your mobile network speed can deliver at any given time.

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  1. See the findings from a new market study by Cisco IBSG, regarding the untapped applications for mobile video communications This is what I'm exited about -- the potential to use smartphone and tablet applications that could impact my productivity in a meaningful way.

  2. Samsung, the company that makes the Galaxy Nexus, apparently wants to "connect" with mainstream consumers -- via a new advertising campaign. Can they influence a right-brain connection with their brand? For the answer, see the following story Here's the above referenced article from "AllThingsD" -- about how Samsung's marketing executive wants people to "feel" something for the products Would it help her cause if Samsung simply explained (via meaningful product reviews) how people use a smartphone for practical and meaningful applications?

  3. Is this perception correct? Probably not, and I think you’re absolutely right that app-centric reviews of different smartphones and carriers would be much more useful than simply comparing hardware specs.

    • @Viktor, thank you for taking the time to comment. Perhaps the Galaxy Nexus is no better or worse than other similar smartphones (for enabling Google video chats). Regardless, I believe that it would be useful to a prospective buyer to consider this type of application review -- that use-case insight might help to guide the selection of this particular device or service provider over another.

  4. David, this is a really interesting perspective. I think the problem is twofold. First, given the size and maturity of the third-party app marketplaces, there is a perception among users that, regardless of the hardware you may be running, you will be able to access the same application experience. Is this perception correct? Probably not, and I think you're absolutely right that app-centric reviews of different smartphones and carriers would be much more useful than simply comparing hardware specs. Second, I think there remains a kind of disconnect between the service provider and the application. As the third-party app marketplaces have evolved, service providers have seemed to distance themselves from the apps running on their networks. From a support or liability perspective, you can understand why they don't want to appear directly responsible for every app someone may be using on their system. At the same time though, I wonder if they are missing an opportunity to differentiate by not talking more about how they make these application experiences work well for users.

    • Hello Jason, I should have known that you would comment on this topic :-) The tech journalists and gadget pundits who write the typical review of a smartphone focus on their own interests. The detailed "unboxing" videos are a classic example of this phenomenon. BTW, to clarify, I'm not specifically faulting the Galaxy Nexus review authors, I'm merely suggesting that it's indicative of the apparent lack of product review diversity. Here's some review examples from a Google search

  5. Good apps make a good phone (smartphone in this case) a really great product. Although the hardware is very important (to be small, slim, glossy etc.), in the end it's important what you can do with that piece of hardware.

    • @Mia, thank you for sharing your point of view. FYI, the global feature-phone market share is still going strong Now that the smartphone early-adopter share seems to have reached saturation in several key markets, it’s time for those Service Providers to evolve their marketing tactics – to attract and convert the next wave of potential users. IMHO, the problem is that the typical tech journalist will focus too much on promoting the feature/function and tech-specs detail and not enough on the targeted app usage examples. My point: for the 60% of the U.S. market that doesn’t own a smartphone, those folks will need some incentives (in the form of meaningful and compelling user benefits).