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 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.

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