U.S. Mobile Culture Still in Stone Ages, Survey Says

The country that gave birth to the iPhone lags other countries in adoption of mobile services.

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The United States is surprisingly lagging other countries in the adoption of both cutting-edge and traditional mobile services, states a new survey by Sybase 365, the mobile services arm of Sybase.

Sybase 365 commissioned a study of some 4,100 mobile phone users across 16 countries, including the United States, China, Germany, South Africa, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom, to learn about their mobile culture.

The key finding: The United States finished dead last in the use of simple mobile technologies such as text messaging and instant messaging. Only one in three U.S. respondents take advantage of these services. In comparison, nine out of 10 respondents in China text on their mobile phones.

"Text messaging services have not been rolled out as effectively in the United States as they have been in other parts of the world," says Diarmuid Mallon, product marketing manager at Sybase 365. "Users in the United States have been encouraged to cash in on unlimited phone minutes and various monthly packages that haven't emphasized or discounted text messaging use, while in other areas of the world it's more common and cheaper to send text messages instead of calling."

The United States fared only a little better with modern mobile services, such as mobile commerce and mobile customer relationship management solutions. Thirteen percent of U.S. respondents make use of modern services, edging out Canada. Whereas nearly half of respondents in China have adopted them.

How did other countries beat out the United States? Developing regions have more to gain with mobile commerce, Mallon says. In Africa, for instance, people can pay for goods with a simple text message and a payment card that acts as currency—that is, they don't need a bank account.

In the United States, however, most people have access to banks and ATM machines. "Since we have more established and wider choices of payment infrastructure, there will be a slower rate of adoption for some new mobile payment services," Mallon says.

Overall, the survey highlighted a growing interest in next-generation mobile services. More than half of respondents said they want mobile-to-voice-over IP, 40 percent want emergency alerts, and 30 percent want mobile banking. Countries with a progressive mobile culture are already reaping the benefits. In Austria, for instance, people can pay parking meters via text messaging.

Digging into the survey data, Sybase 365 created six archetypes of mobile users:

The archetypal mobile "enthusiast" is a man in his mid-20s in China who uses his mobile phone for every aspect of his life, from paying bills to managing his social life.

The archetypal mobile "techie" is a man in his late-20s in Indonesia who jumps on the latest mobile trends and apps. In his world view, the mobile phone is his PC.

The archetypal mobile "socialite" is a man in his mid-30s in Italy who values mobile speed and connectivity. His mobile phone helps him enjoy his life more.

The archetypal mobile "sophisticate" is a woman in her late-30s in France who uses her phone to tap into the Internet to check finances and investments. She is not interested in social networking on her phone.

The archetypal mobile "researcher" is a woman in her 40s in Germany who uses her phone primarily as an information gathering tool.

Lastly, the archetypal mobile "recluse" is a woman in her 40s or 50s in the United States who uses her phone as, well, a phone. She's not interested in fancy mobile services, nor does she want to pay for them.

The survey clearly shows that the U.S. mobile culture is far less advanced than others. "I think a lot of people will be surprised by the findings, since in Silicon Valley we're surrounded by mobile innovation," Mallon says. "The reality is that other countries are much more advanced in deploying certain next generation mobile services."

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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