S'pore slow to grab mobile opportunities

Mobile Internet usage among Singapore consumers growing but both private and public sectors have yet to capitalize on trend in their marketing efforts, says industry observer.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Explosion and evolution of mobile phones have left businesses in the dust when it comes to targeting mobile-Internet-savvy users, said an industry observer.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, James Fergusson, managing director of global technology sector at market research company TNS, said local and overseas businesses as well as organizations targeting the Singapore market are slow to jump on the mobile Internet bandwagon despite high mobile penetration in the island-state.

While mobile Internet is gaining traction among consumers in Singapore, businesses have yet to catch on because of the high speed at which devices have evolved, explained Fergusson.

"Smartphone adoption and evolution in particular has taken the world by storm," he said. "While marketers are still getting to grips with the digital [world], mobile has suddenly exploded as an additional element to this."

With the future of Internet being mobile, organizations, whether public or private, will need to take advantage of this trend and target their marketing efforts accordingly, he noted.

The importance of the mobile phone, he added, extends to emerging markets such as India and sub-Saharan Africa. "The mobile phone is often the only technology device consumers have, as such they try and get as much value from it as possible.

"In crowded living conditions it becomes much more than a communications device. The mobile is the users' primary means of entertainment through music and games, the primary means of capturing and sharing memories and their primary business tool," said Fergusson.

Referring to the TNS Mobile Life 2011 study, which surveyed over 34,000 mobile users from 43 countries, Fergusson said Singapore has the world's highest penetration of smartphones after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He added that Singapore users find greater value in mobile Internet than fixed Internet because their mobile phones are "anywhere and everywhere" they are.

TNS, which released the Singapore-specific results of the study on Tuesday, found that the activities that Singapore users want to do with their phones are more advanced compared with their global counterparts. Fergusson said this is in part due to the country's advanced mobile Internet networks.

Lesser-known brands thrive in China, Thailand
Moving away from Singapore, Fergusson also shared some of the interesting trends among the other Asia-Pacific markets surveyed.

In China, the share of non-established brand handsets is on the rise. Fergusson said this was not surprising but noted it is an important segment as it makes up 29 percent of the market. Among the less familiar brands mentioned by the mobile users are Tianyu, Lenovo and ZTE phones, but "other" brands also make up a large portion of the market, he noted.

"This shows large opportunities for low-cost smartphones and network provider endorsement," he said. "The influence of network brands is high, but the equity and importance of content such as the operating system, access to apps and features, is on the rise, so collaboration [between network operators and handset makers] is necessary."

Similarly, non-global brands account for a quarter of the handset market in Thailand, said Fergusson. Thailand, he added, is an open market for alternative brands or collaboration as mobile phone networks wield strong influence within the ecosystem. According to Fergusson, i-mobile, Wellcom, and GNET are among the brands that boast high ownership.

Over in Hong Kong, tablets rule consumers' minds, the TNS executive noted. Compared with other markets, Hong Kong has the highest tablet ownership at 17 percent and users there also topped their global counterparts in terms of buying intent (50 percent). Malaysian respondents also indicated a keen interest in tablets, although the majority of users exhibit strong PC tendencies with regard to activities such as messaging.

In Indonesia, mobile social networking is prominent and the service has grown by 15 percent in the past 12 months, he said.

The Philippines is one of the few markets where the influence of content brands on a person's mobile device purchase decision has diminished in the past 12 months, added Fergusson. Handset and network brands hold almost equal power in terms of brand commitment. Users in the Philippines also displayed a massive appetite for SMS (short message service), which they use for both work and personal.

As with the Philippines, the Vietnam market is SMS-dominated, said Fergusson. However, there is considerable growth in the impact of content brands on a purchase decision, from 7 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2011, which offers opportunities for collaboration between the different players in the mobile ecosystem, he noted. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are the most popular content brands in Vietnam, he said.

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