Inside the heads of smartphone shoppers

A Google survey of what people look for in smartphones reveals patterns that IT and developers should know

Everyone knows that smartphones are one of the hottest areas in technology-based products -- but what exactly do people look for when they choose a smartphone? That knowledge can help businesses anticipate what employees might try to bring into the network and software developers understand what mobile platforms to target and for which types of applications.

For two years now, Google has surveyed nearly 3,000 people on their smartphone preferences and analyzed the real-world mobile device shopping lists of 2 million people who opted to have their behavior tracked. The latest survey shows that searches around researching and buying cell phones of all stripes has increased about 33 percent versus the year before.

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Much of what Google's survey has found seems obvious to me:

  • Smartphones are still largely boys' toys; men make up 58 percent of buyers, 40 percent of whom are aged 25 to 34, and largely single with no kids. (The survey results also reinforce two gender stereotypes: Men were most interested in "toy" issues such as speeds and specs, while women were most interested in "relationship" issues such as carriers' customer support and coverage.)
  • People buy smartphones mainly because they do more than regular cell phones (45 percent cited that reason).
  • People who want a smartphone rather than a regular cell phone are very interested in the OS and apps capability of the device: 72 percent of smartphone buyers cared about the OS versus 42 percent for regular cell phone buyers, and 60 percent of smartphone buyers cared about available apps versus 29 percent for regular cell phone buyers. Eighty percent of smartphone buyers also were looking for a specific model, versus 50 percent of regular cell phone buyers. (Of the other factors surveyed -- coverage area, customer service, cellular provider, desire to stick with an existing family plans, and desire for online account management -- the two groups of buyers were essentially the same.)
  • Most smartphone buyers (72 percent) stick with their current carrier, even though only 58 percent were certain they would do so at the beginning of the buying process. But 19 percent switched carriers -- likely all those folks who wanted an iPhone and could get it only from AT&T.
  • Of those who didn't buy a smartphone, 53 percent cited the high cost of data plans as the reason, while 28 percent concluded they didn't need the features. Given the high price of smartphones and of their data plans, and the two-year commitment usually required, those two responses seem like the same core response to me: They cost too much.
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