USA: For the past few years, at my direction, Accenture has studied usage of technology by consumers to identify major trends that might assist our corporate clients. Our most recent survey of 19 different technologies across users in 10 countries revealed four major trends that we believe will be crucial over the next several years. They are:
* that consumers are reaching a state of “hypermobility,” rapidly adopting mobile technologies and downloading applications that keep them connected anywhere, anytime;
* that consumers are increasingly reaching into the network and modifying their behaviors as they rely on cloud services;
* that consumers’ use of electronics is increasingly more dependent on the exploding number of applications now within their reach; and
* that emerging markets lead in usage and spending growth of many consumer technologies.
Consumers are adopting mobile technology so rapidly that the mobility trend is in hyper-drive. While consumers still have strong ownership and usage of desktop or laptop computers (90 percent surveyed own them), purchase intentions for computers are slowly declining. Simultaneously, smartphone and tablet PC ownership is rising steeply. More than half of consumers we surveyed own a smartphone—up 25 points in the past 12 months. This marks a growth rate of 89 percent over the previous year. One-third of respondents bought a smartphone in 2011, an increase of 15 percentage points compared with 2010.
On a similar trajectory, ownership of tablets grew by 50 percent last year, from 8 percent of consumers owning them to 12 percent, according to our study. Tablet computers are also a hot prospect for sales in the coming months. Intentions to purchase tablets in the next 12 months have doubled from last year – the largest relative gain among the 19 technologies surveyed. As consumers buy tablets, they increasingly view their laptop PC as a more stationary device. Fifty-eight percent of tablet owners said they were motivated to buy a tablet computer because it’s more mobile than a laptop.
The consumer cloud uplift
Consumers increasingly are reaching into the network for services and content. In fact, only 12 percent of respondents reported they don’t use any online services. By far the most common online or cloud service that consumers use is the online mailbox. Online games are ahead of movie streaming, photo and video storage, and music streaming in usage.
As consumers experience the cloud, a majority (56 percent) are changing the choices they make and how they behave. The most frequently cited change pertained to entertainment, with 32 percent saying they had stopped or almost stopped renting or buying DVDs.
With the quest for mobility comes the pursuit of applications. Increasing adoption of smartphones and tablets is causing rapid uptake in mobile media consumption. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents download apps. Among this group, 49 percent have downloaded apps at least once a week in the past 12 months. Information apps (such as news, sports, or weather) are the most mature apps category among consumers who have downloaded apps. Networking (social/professional networks) and entertainment (such as music, single or group games, or videos) follow close behind.
Where in the world? Globalization and the ongoing shift in purchasing patterns
Emerging markets show a continued thirst for the latest technologies as they lead growth in ownership and purchase intent for many newer types of devices. With the exception of India, consumers in urban areas of have spent a higher percentage of their annual income on consumer electronics devices in the past 12 months than those in mature markets. Chinese urban consumers, already allocating the largest share of their income toward consumer technology, plan to slightly increase this share in the coming year.
So what newer electronics are driving increased spending within emerging markets? Different preferences exist across countries.
Smartphones: More urban consumers in South Africa have smartphones than any other country. Three-fourths (75 percent) of urban South Africans own smartphones, compared with 20 percent of consumers in Japan. While demand for smartphones is strong in South Africa, Russia had the greatest growth in ownership year over year, reporting 34 percent growth in those who own smartphones since 2010.
Tablet Computers: Tablets for personal and professional use are important across all urban emerging markets. China has the greatest ownership percentage (27 percent), while Brazil, China, and India have the greatest purchase intentions in the next 12 months. These Brazilian, Chinese and Indian consumers cite the tablet’s portability—compared with the laptop--and its status as the latest innovation in consumer electronics as top reasons for their purchase plans. Furthermore, consumers in emerging countries are using tablet computers much more often for professional use—in several cases three times as much as mature countries. In Brazil, South Africa and India, in particular, tablets are used extensively for both personal and professional purposes.
These survey findings paint a picture of consumers striving to get and stay connected wherever they are via mobile technologies, abundant app choices, and a growing set of service alternatives from the cloud. The era of hypermobility has numerous implications for consumer electronics companies as they work to capture the greatest share of wallet among their target customers.
For instance, while emerging markets lead the growth of many consumer technologies, these markets are not uniform in consumers’ device purchase and use. Due to demographics, especially age and geography, coupled with social factors, the consumer base and buyer values are fragmented. Companies must be careful to target unique customer segments based on their behavior and preferences and not as a single “emerging market.”
With consumers valuing increased mobility, the cloud emerges as an important component of manufacturers’ portfolios of content and applications. As consumers switch to cloud services, manufacturers should consider adding entertainment services to their portfolio to capitalize on high use and growth opportunity this category represents. In addition, they should make it easy for consumers to switch between devices, such as offering a common user interface as consumers become increasingly device-agnostic in their daily activities.
The mobile apps market likely will develop in different ways in various regions based on factors such as smartphone penetration and platforms, as well as wireless operator strategies. But one truism persists: Consumers have come to expect everything to be “appified” and will increasingly seek new apps to help organize and manage their Internet access and mobile experience.
Furthermore, almost half of tablet owners globally are using tablets to some extent for professional use even though corporations are struggling with issues of security, integration into existing IT environments, and user support. As consumers increasingly use tablet computers in the workplace, enterprise app development for smartphone and tablets will become a bigger necessity, and a new source of potential revenue.
And profitable product portfolios will have a focus on devices that meet consumers’ preference for mobility, from smartphones to tablets, while extending other categories such as the PC with new form factors (e.g. ultrabooks) and televisions with “connected” experiences.
The author is a senior executive with Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech Group. She leads the consumer electronics practice.