Archive for July, 2009

Even in 3G, it’s the Internet through a straw

Digital market researcher comScore releases a new report: Mobile Financial Services: The Market Today and Opportunities for Tomorrow. Although the July 30 webinar is already fully subscribed, and the report is available only for purchase, some details are to be found in the press release.

comScore’s emphasis is on the US market and on more capable phones (smartphones and 3G phones). The statistics leave me wanting detail on methodology  – not to mention error bars. But since comScore can tap a consumer panel of 1 million in the US, let’s assume sample size makes these differences significant, and go from there.

    Mobile Banking Access by Device Technology
    March 2009
    Source: comScore Mobile Financial Services Report
                          % of Smartphone    % of 3G Users
                             Users Who        Who Mobile
                            Mobile Bank          Bank
    Via Internet Browser       44.1              53.3
    Via Application            40.6              48.1
    Via SMS                    25.0              41.0

First, a result that will be no surprise to iPhone purchasers (and weary AT&T network engineers): faster network and better user interface drive demand for services. 3G phone users do more mobile banking than smartphone users.

Then the intriguing bits. You might predict that smartphone users, impatient with graphical display, would preferentially resort to text messages (SMS) for m-banking. Instead, smartphone users do less with SMS banking than with other interfaces. And they do drastically less SMS banking than do the 3G users. Are 3G users more likely to have an all-you-can-eat plan? Or are 3G users more in the habit of reaching for their phone no matter what their location, choosing SMS if their network is spotty or slow?

Finally, even though “there’s an app for that,” more people use a browser than a dedicated application to access their financial information. But here too, details matter. How well is the app designed? How painful is it to switch from browsing to the app? How many people even have the app loaded?

Oh, to be a fly on the contextual-inquiry wall.

Here’s another interesting bit: people at home with access to a personal computer still use their phone to bank. 31% do their primary m-banking at home, not on the road:

    Q: Where do you primarily access your financial accounts via
    your mobile phone?
    March 2009
    Source: comScore Mobile Financial Services Report

    Location            Percentage of Mobile Financial
                               Services Users
    At home                          31%
    Running errands                  25%
    Commuting                        15%
    At work                          11%
    Away on vacation                  9%
    Away on business travel           8%

Again, I suspect task switching costs. If you’re at the kitchen table wanting to quickly check a balance, it may take longer to wake up a computer than to pull the phone out of your pocket. But for that monthly statement reconciliation, it’s worth the trek to the home office.

comScore summarizes usage patterns for current m-banking applications. But better mobile app development and mobile-specific web development are sorely needed. The Nielsen Norman Group’s report on Mobile Usability documents the rough state of the art. Research summaries from July and February 2009 preview some detail. The studies combine data from user testing, diary studies, and expert design review, and cover a variety of applications beyond finance.

  • The average mobile task success rate is a “miserable” 59%, lower than the 80% seen on PCs.
  • Using a mobile makes you a disabled user.” Restricted field of view and excessive scrolling mimic the experience of low vision users on desktop websites. Long page load times, big images, and JavaScript crashes compound the frustration.
  • Using a mobile-optimized site increases success by 1/5:  64% to 53%.
  • Users are escaping their carriers’ walled gardens. They are increasingly likely to get to a mobile site via search, which takes longer.
  • Therefore, mobile-optimized sites need to be easy to find and should present streamlined functionality. Auto-detect the mobile device, and provide the option of a link back to the full site.
  • Large businesses may consider multiple mobile-optimized designs, one for feature phones with small screens and one for smartphones + full-screen phones.
  • Mobile apps can drastically cut task time. “An iPhone user … had a weather application installed on the phone and used it to get the weather forecast in only 18 seconds (1/3 of the fastest speed from 2000).”

July 29, 2009 at 11:38 pm Leave a comment

Mobile phones in microfinance

Missed an excellent Twitter #MifiMon (Microfinance Monday) on July 20. Fortunately there’s a summary.

Microcredit began as character lending. People with no collateral banded in small groups and became jointly responsible for paying back loans. This is the village model of microcredit most familiar to the public.

But when is technology erroneously substituted for human contact, that face to face accountability which ensures timely loan repayment? And when is it used effectively to connect and empower clients? Credit SMS is about to launch a pilot program in which microloan officers receive weekly payments via SMS, rather than traveling to meet all borrowers.

Lively #MifiMon discussion continues on Facebook,  July 27, starting at 8:30 AM Central.

Also, I enjoyed Tapan Parikh’s lecture [iTunes movie] on appropriate technology for the developing world. In his experimental system, paper procedures for microcredit loans are augmented by mobile phones, which are used for data capture through keypad entry and camera image capture. (Mobile phone + wooden box to stabilize phone above paper = scanner!)

Mobile phones work in environments where people are only intermittently connected to the network and to electric power.

Key elements of Parikh’s system:

  • Paper based, using forms with scan codes.
  • Uses numeric input. Intermediaries read and write on behalf of the village borrowers, but the borrowers themselves are numerate. They can recognize that the number in “their” cell of the paper worksheet is accurately recorded.
  • Provides audio feedback in the local language. This fosters group participation, and also reassures the borrower that their transaction was correctly recorded in the system.

There’s good video of the system at the 32 minute mark, and a summary starts at 42 minutes.

July 24, 2009 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment


Welcome to my rapidly evolving blog!

It’s dubbed “Crossing the Streams” because I enjoy moving between disciplines and topics, sharing what I find, and blending the results.

(Some say that crossing streams is ill advised, but it is very powerful.)

I’ll be drawing on background in user experience and universal design. I’ve also spent several entrepreneurial years as co-owner of a specialty bookstore in San Francisco, providing a 21st Century web presence to a 1930’s establishment. My current focus is the intersection of social responsibility and technology, including microfinance.

July 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm 2 comments

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