Posts tagged ‘Research’

Who uses mobile broadband? Guess again.

Hispanic Broadband Access ReportHispanics trail other US populations in overall internet access, but rely heavily on mobile phones and even mobile broadband. A greater proportion of Hispanics and African Americans use mobile broadband (53% and 58% respectively), with both communities ahead of whites (33%).

These figures come from The Hispanic Institute and the Mobile Future coalition. Their short white paper highlights Hispanic market opportunities for mobile broadband access and applications. It’s a market 48 million strong, and also a community in which broadband access is key to economic opportunity and social benefits.

Some other highlights from the report:

  • Hispanics are more mobile than the general U.S. population and, thus, rely more on cell phones. In fact, compared to Americans generally, Hispanics account for more minutes used and for a higher percentage of cell-phone ownership despite their relatively low incomes.
  • Given that roughly 40% of U.S. Hispanics are born abroad, in countries where wireless service often is more common than landline phones, the American Hispanic community is more open to mobile broadband than many other population groups. This familiarity makes the leap to smartphones and other connected mobile devices a more intuitive step for many than turning to wired, home broadband adoption and computer usage.
  • In 2008, Hispanics outpaced the general population in accessing and downloading digital media (music, video, audio, movies, television programs, video games and podcasts), 42% to 35%.

September 22, 2009 at 5:44 pm Leave a comment

News In Brief, Aug. 13, 2009

This week’s research focuses on technology infrastructure for emerging markets. As usual I pick up other things along the way.

I’m keeping tabs on banking trends that go beyond microcredit to other financial services.

  • The topic got my attention at Microfinance California 2009. Slides from the panel on “Beyond Microfinance Lending: New Consumer Products” are available. Sarah Gordon of CSFI reminded us that 40 million people in the US are un- or under-banked, and that underbanked isn’t subprime (pdf). The panelists (Prosper Marketplace, Progreso Financial, Community Financial Resources, and Pacific Community Ventures) touched on debit cards, bill paying, health care reimbursement, savings, and investment services.
  • This week, the Gates Foundation announced $350M in grants for international projects to help the poor build savings. Poor rural people incur large expenses to put their money in distant banks. Or, they attempt to stockpile cash, jewelry, extra building materials and spare animals – but “stuff gets stolen, animals die,” and informal savings lose a fifth of their value. Instead, these projects will let people store and access cash deposits via their local post office, lottery outpost, or cellphone account.

And this afternoon, Thursday 8/13, I’ll be at PARC to hear Marissa Mayer speak on “Innovation at Google: The Physics of Data.

Technologies for sensing, storing, and sharing information are driving innovation in the tools available to help us understand our world in greater detail and accuracy than ever before. The implications of analyzing data on a massive scale transcend the tech industry, impacting the environmental sector, social justice issues, health and science research, and more. When coupled with astute technical insight, data is dynamic, accessible, and ultimately, creative.

August 13, 2009 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

Field research for SMS queries in Uganda

The Grameen Foundation, Google, and telecom provider MTN Uganda have launched a suite of mobile phone applications. These are the first products of nonprofit Grameen’s Application Laboratory (AppLab) effort. The SMS query-and-answer services are designed to work with basic mobile phones, and provide real-time health and agricultural information as well as a virtual marketplace.

Users can access the services at the time of their choosing and search relevant content on-demand, operating almost like the Internet.  The services include: Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts; Health Tips, which provides sexual and reproductive health information, paired with Clinic Finder, which helps locate nearby health clinics and their services; and Google Trader matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products.

Local organizations provide the knowledge base for each information service. Users enter a freeform text query, and Google’s algorithms identify keywords, search the appropriate knowledge base, and return the most relevant answer.

Agriculture query results

It’s worth noting what a huge opportunity there is for such services. Overall, 80% of new mobile users are coming from developing countries (CGAP). Google further points out that Africa has the world’s highest mobile growth rate, and mobile phone penetration is six times Internet penetration. One-third of the African population owns a mobile phone and many more have access to one. In Uganda agriculture employs over 80% of the workforce and only 13% of Ugandans live in urban areas, so using mobile phones to get information to rural populations meets a great need.

And that’s why it’s worth spending money and time to get the service right. How do you anticipate what questions people will ask, and what answers will be most useful? Enter the user experience team, taking a classic Wizard of Oz technique to Ugandan villages.

First, we trained a multilingual team to act as user researchers in 17 carefully selected locations across the country. In each place, they introduced themselves to a cross section of people they met and invited them to participate in a free study that would help create useful services for Ugandans. If the person agreed, the researcher handed them a mobile phone and encouraged them to write a text message containing a question they wanted to know the answer to. (If people had their own phone, we reimbursed them with phone credit.) The text message was then routed to a control room we’d set up in Kampala where a human expert read the text message, typed a response, and sent it back via SMS to the person who asked the question. In the meantime, the interviewer observed and recorded the participant’s user experience. This allowed us to record rich qualitative data from hundreds of interviews in just a few days, and to collect quantitative data from hundreds of search queries.

The team captured 280 queries in 4 days. Watch this great video; it really gives you a feel for the process. The sessions at the markets start at around 2:20. At 6:22 are visits to phone operators in rural villages, where phones are shared. (Get the feeling that the answer to the malaria query didn’t quite hit the mark?)

I’ll be interested in the longer term reports of social impact, to be conducted with Innovations for Poverty Action, plus Google.org support.

August 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

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


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