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U.S. And Canadian Cell-Phone Users Think Practical

Market-research firm In-Stat says a new survey shows much more interest in being able to check E-mail and use location services than in sending pictures and playing games.
When it comes to cellular phones, people in the United States and Canada favor checking E-mail and finding a good restaurant over sending pictures and playing games, a market research firm said Tuesday.

Unlike Japanese and Korean users who have embraced high-end services delivered on expensive cellular phones, North American tend to be more practical in what they want out of their phones, In-Stat/MDR said.

"Most people in the U.S. and Canada are use to the cell phone being a phone," In-Stat analyst Neil Strother said. "They're not unfamiliar with data services, but they still relate that mostly to desktops and landlines."

A web survey late last year of 1,043 North American cell-phone users found checking E-mail as the most desired use for the device, other than voice communications, In-Stat said. Second were location-based services, such as finding the nearest theater showing a particular movie; followed by Internet surfing and playing games.

E-mail access was most important to 47.2% of the respondents and location services were favored by 41.9%. Surfing and games were considerably less popular at 21.2% and 15%, respectively. Respondents could choose more than one service.

Interestingly, 21.2% of the respondents selected "I don't know," when asked what cellular phone services they would like to see, other than voice. This result was interpreted as showing some confusion as to the benefits of higher-end services versus the added costs to the voice communications that many people already consider expensive.

"For now, they want data information that helps them do practical things," Strother said.

However, the survey doesn't necessarily mean North Americans won't open their wallets for less-practical services, such as taking a picture of the grandkids on a cellular phone and sending it to grandma. The problem is that with today's phones and wireless networks, grandma won't get the picture if she uses a different carrier, and may not be able to recognize her grandchildren on the low-resolution display found on most phones. Even with the same carrier and an expensive phone, it takes a long time for the picture to download on today's slow-speed networks.

Nevertheless, carriers are building high-speed networks and phone manufacturers are starting to sell better devices for handling digitized data, so consumers may be willing to spend more as the technologies improve. But the cost will have to be fairly low. "Ongoing cost is first," Strother said. "We don't look at the phone first. We ask, 'what's my monthly nut.'"

Nevertheless, In-Stat expects carriers to overcoming the technological and price hurdles over time; it and forecasts steady sales growth for high-end phones with cameras and operating systems for running software used to process video and graphics.

Worldwide shipments of smart phones are expected to increase globally from 11.6 million in 2003 to 324 million by 2008, according to In-Stat. The number of phones shipping with cameras is projected to increase from 43 million to 366 million in the same time period. The numbers also include smart phones with cameras.

Shipments for all phones are forecast to increase from 465 million to 683 million, showing that phones with advanced capabilities are expected to make up nearly half of all units sold by 2008.