Blog Post

Why Handset Makers and Social Networks Need Each Other, Take Two

[qi:gigaom_icon_mobile] Social networks and mobile phones are a match made in heaven. Om has written previously about how mobile carriers are reaping financial benefits from the growing usage of social networks on cell phones — more people are signing up for data plans to use apps like Facebook. Even Google (s goog) and T-Mobile have taken notice; the two companies are whipping up ways to make people’s mobile experiences more social. But handset makers and carriers have a long way to go in accomplishing that task, as only 2.3 percent of Europeans visit social networks via their mobile phones, according to a Forrester Research report released today. To boost that percentage, cell phone makers and social networks need to partner to design devices tailored for social networking, Forrester analyst Ian Fogg argues.

In the report, Fogg lists five ways in which handset makers can design devices that encourage  people to consume social networks via their mobile phones:

  • Improve cameras on mobile phones so users can take quality photos and immediately push them out to social networks.
  • Provide better filtering capabilities that separate email from social-network messages and alert users when they receive notifications.
  • Make mobile phone screen sizes larger so consumers can easily glance at information.
  • Develop address books that store contact information from social networks (echoing what Google VP of Engineering Andy Rubin told Om last month at a T-Mobile event).
  • Have the ability to sync and work offline so people can access social networks even when they’re not connected to the web.

These design recommendations sound pretty obvious, but as Fogg points out, many smartphones on the market lack them. As an example, Fogg singles out the iPhone camera and how it takes poor pictures in dark areas because it doesn’t have a flash. Device makers can look to INQ Mobile’s Facebook-focused INQ1 handset as a beacon, since 65 percent of INQ1 users access Facebook on a daily basis. As Om pointed out earlier, it’s in the best interest of handset makers and mobile carriers to marry smartphones with social networks because “like email and instant messaging, Facebook (and soon Twitter) are what we use to stay in touch with our friends, colleagues and family.” Social networks are indeed the communication tools we’ll continue to rely on in the future, and handsets will have to be tailored to accommodate this — or risk becoming irrelevant in the fast-changing mobile phone market.

2 Responses to “Why Handset Makers and Social Networks Need Each Other, Take Two”

  1. While I donot disagree with the fact that increasingly people use social networks, I’d also like to point out that people can choose to live without social networks. Yes, that is possible. And that is exactly what the Forrester research tells me – 97.7% Europeans use phones for making calls (and the humongous rest use it for social networking).

    And no, phones that are bad at social networking will not disappear from the face of the earth. Nor will phones that enable social networking at the expense of being good phones (ex. bad audio, bad radio) thrive.

    The example of iPhone with a poor camera (for dark scenes) is a case in point – the iPhone will continue to sell even if they don’t fix that camera. I don’t expect iPhone users to switch to a different phone merely because it has a camera with Flash.

    I’d like to round up with a note of caution – social networking (or anything else) is no silver bullet. Let’s stop behaving as if the world depended on facebook and twitter for everything. Of course that doesn’t mean that they are not useful.