About 72% of small businesses -- defined in the survey as firms with between two and 50 employees -- reported using mobile apps in their operations. And 38% said "they could not survive -- or it would be a major challenge to survive" -- if their mobile apps vanished. AT&T polled 2,246 small business owners and IT stakeholders in December.
GPS and mapping topped the list of most popular services, with close to half (49%) of companies utilizing them. Roughly one in four small businesses are using social media marketing and document management apps on their mobile devices. Location-based services (24%), time management (23%), travel and expense tracking (22%), and mobile credit card payments (20%) followed closely behind in terms of regular use. Saving time was the chief reason given by businesses for employing mobile apps. The smaller the business, the more likely it is to seek to save time with mobile apps, according to the report.
While business apps might be maturing -- in turn helping fuel increased adoption of mobile devices by SMB users -- it seems clear that they still have plenty of room to grow. A study conducted in January by Network Solutions and the University of Maryland, for instance, found high awareness but relatively low usage among small businesses of various mobile marketing tactics. For example, 59% of respondents in that study said they were aware they could develop a mobile app for their business, but just 3% had done so.
Not surprisingly, AT&T's survey found that wireless technology is just about ubiquitous these days -- 96% of companies polled use some form of it. Four in 10 said that all of their employees use wireless devices or technologies to work remotely, an increase from 28% in similar poll conducted in 2008. AT&T projected that the figure will hit 50% in 2012.
The telecom giant, which certainly has a vested interest in the use of smartphones and other wireless devices, also took a temperature check on social media usage among SMBs. It found a significant year-over-year spike in the numbers of small businesses with Facebook pages -- 41% of respondents reported having one, a jump from 27% in 2009. Of those businesses using social media, 37% reported increased traffic on their company Web site as a result.
The AT&T survey likewise echoed some recent studies that the word "cloud" may not have much meaning among SMBs, even if they are in fact using Web-based technologies. Some 32% of owners and IT managers polled by AT&T said they don't know what term means, while 33% reported using cloud-based technologies in their business.