Monday, 19 January 2009 08:48

Oh crap - I just dropped my phone down the loo!

Although Microsoft’s new survey on mobile phone usage in the bathroom/toilet/lavatory makes no mention of bathroom based mobile mishaps, with nearly 50% of Aussies using their phones in the so-called “rest room”, why didn’t they ask this question?

In what could well be the weirdest way to whip up some publicity for Windows Mobile thus far in 2009, Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business unit has commissioned a company called Synovate to reveal “exactly how integral the mobile phone has become to Australians.”

Synovate was motivated by Microsoft to interview nearly 2,500 respondents across Australia, Japan, China, India and Taiwan (between Sept and Dec 2008), so while it’s not an Australia-only survey, the results provided to the press almost entirely refer to Australia only.

Apparently there were around 500 Australian respondents, which suggests there were similar numbers for each country.

It would have been interesting to see how we compared with our Asian counterparts across all areas of phone usage – only a few cross regional comparisons are made.

Still, the stats provided on Australian usage and preferences do make for interesting reading, so here’s what was discovered:

- 48% of Australians use their mobile phone while in the lavatory. However, Australians are not the highest users of mobile phones in the bathroom across APAC; Taiwan and China have the highest incidences of mobile phone use in the lavatory, at 68% and 66% respectively.

There’s no specific indication whether this is making and receiving phone calls, surfing the web, sending or receiving emails and SMS, listening to music, watching video, looking at photos etc – so presumably it is a combination of all of these activities.

Given that reading a magazine or a book is something that people do in “rest rooms”, using a digital device to consume media or send SMS/email messages is no surprise. Spoken communications is another matter but there are many for whom being in the bathroom is no obstacle…

The survey then uncovers that the four most popular mobile phone usage occasions in Australia are while eating a meal with other people (80%), while driving (62%), while using the loo (48%) and while trying to sleep (48%).

I guess “using” your phone while trying to sleep is like reading a book before going to sleep… unless you’re a “Zzz-mailer” that sends emails (or texts) while actually asleep.

More surprising stats are on page 2… please read on!

Next up comes the revelation that “Younger Australian mobile phone users (aged 18-30) are more likely to use a mobile phone in a library, at the cinema or during a concert than those over 30 years of age.”

This is followed up with the assertion that “53% of Australians agree that mobile phones should be allowed during flights, with most citing informing friends/family on ground of flight changes as the main reason for switching their phone on in the air.”

Presumably, when it comes to the safety of children being exposed to mobile phone radiation, the mobile Internet, the threat of spam SMS and phone calls (with spam phone calls common in HK) and just having access to a mobile phone at too young an age, the survey uncovered that “Australians mostly agree that children under the age of 12 should not be given a mobile phone (73%), and the rest of APAC responded similarly (74%).”

The survey then found that Australians are open to using mobile phones to manage their personal relationships. In fact, in taking relationships to the next level, more Australian males (24%) than females (11%) think it’s acceptable to propose using their mobile phones.

You’d want to think this was done via a video MMS message rather than just text message, but clearly, anything is possible.

Other key findings? Here they are:

- People in Sydney (43%) are less likely to check their partner’s SMS/caller list than people in Melbourne (52%).

- Married females (58%) are more likely to check their partner’s mobile phone messages and SMS/caller list than married men (43%).

- 57% of Australians have flirted with their spouse/partner using SMS/MM/IM over mobile phone and 30% have flirted with someone other than their spouse/partner.

- 25% of Australians would use GPS to track their spouse or partner’s whereabouts.

- 13% of Australians are likely to use their mobile phones during extremely intimate moments.

What about consumer preferences for mobile phones? Please read on to page 3!

Synovate’s survey also reveals consumer preferences for different types of mobile phones across the surveyed markets.

It turns out that Australians, compared to other markets, prefer the more traditional numeric keypad (38%) while the Chinese (59%), Indians (59%) and Taiwanese (63%) are predominantly in favour of touch screen phones. 36% of Australians preferred touch screen phones.

When it comes to a mobile phone purchase, the following factors rank high with Australians in the decision-making process:

- Functionality, rather than the look of the phone, was stated as the highest overall factor when choosing a mobile phone in Australia (55%), while most other countries across APAC placed higher importance on cost.

- 54% of Australians site cost as the second most important factor when deciding which phone to purchase.

- Australians rank ease-of-use (44%) as the third most important factor when buying a device.

Grace Kerrison, Microsoft Australia’s director of Mobile Communications Business, said: "Other than showing some of the more unconventional uses of phones, these results show how entrenched in all aspects of our lives mobile phones have become.

“With the arrival of smartphones, people are doing even more on-the-go. It’s exciting to see Microsoft’s vision of making mobile communications a reality for users everywhere coming to fruition!”

It’s at this point in the press release covering the survey that Microsoft takes the opportunity to pitch Windows Mobile, although unlike some of the survey results, this is entirely unsurprising.

Microsoft software that “with smartphones helping to make significant improvements in mobile communications, not only can people reach their contacts via SMS, Instant Message (IM), or e-mail, there are plenty of other imaginative ways to reach out to one’s social network.”

It also notes that “today”, there are about “140 phones across APAC running Microsoft Windows Mobile in a variety of form factors including touch screens, QWERTY keyboards and one hand navigation” – no doubt poking a bit of fun Apple’s way, with its single design.

Microsoft also reminds us all that there are “more than 18,000 Windows Mobile applications – spanning cocktail mixing to New Year’s resolution tracking to personal fitness programs – to help empower communication, sharing and discovery no matter where you are.”

Given that Microsoft’s partners sold 20 million Windows Mobile phones in total last year alone, and with competition set to be tight in 2009, what with the Palm Pre, a new iPhone midyear, the Nokia N97 and a host of others, it’s only natural that Microsoft wants you to forget about all of those and think Windows Mobile  – whether or not using your phone in the loo is, or isn’t, for you!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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