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Goldstuck on Gadgets

The ultimate killer app

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What makes a gadget the most sought after on the market? Conventional wisdom says you have to present potential customers with a ‚killer app‚ ‚ an application that will be in such demand, it will kill off any alternative from the competition. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK pinpoints the ultimate killer app.

In the cellphone market, the very idea of apps, or mini applications, is driving the market forward. Phones that handle apps well, such as the iPhone, gain not only the lion’s share of media attention, but also the hearts and minds of the salivating public.

For a brief moment, the phone that had it all was the Samsung Galaxy S phone. It had the most dazzling screen yet seen in public when it was launched last year. It used a technology called OLED, for organic light-emitting diode, which makes the LCD screens currently amazing TV buyers look so, like, 2009.

Next in line for flavour of the moment is likely to be the new Thunderbolt from HTC, due to be released here later this year. It will offer built-in ‚video Skype mobile‚ and will break the Internet air speed record.

These are among the great aspirational phones across the world. However, aspirations don’t necessarily translate into purchases.

Research released last week by World Wide Worx (SA cellphone users suddenly smart: http://www.mygadget.co.za/pebble.asp?relid=2683 ) showed that none of these apps or attributes would translate directly into huge sales. The Mobility 2011 project looked at current cellphone ownership, and intended cellphone purchases in the coming 12 to 24 months.

Nokia remains the market leader, as it has since cellphones were first introduced in South Africa in 1994, with 51% of the market. Way behind in second place is Samsung, at 28%, and even further behind the likes of LG (5%), BlackBerry and Motorola (4% each).

But the real shocker came when we looked at what consumers intend to purchase next. Here is where aspiration hits the road: BlackBerry was cited by no less than 24%: one quarter of the adult cellphone user base. The iPhone, currently at 1% market share, will rise to above 3%. The biggest losers? Samsung, falling by 16%, and LG, Motorola and Nokia, each dropping by 3%.

The obvious question: why BlackBerry? The iPhone is streets ahead in the range of apps and ease of use of these apps. Many point to BBM, short for BlackBerry Messenger, an instant messaging service that costs nothing to use, and can replace SMS entirely if everyone you know uses it. BBM has taken the teenage and student market by storm, while the iPhone remains available in limited quantities.

But the truth is that the Blackberry’s killer app is not on the phone itself. It lies in the way BlackBerry is sold in South Africa. Along with a few other countries, like Australia and New Zealand, the business model here is to offer customers unlimited Internet access on the phone for a modest monthly fee. The same service is offered in the United Kingdom at about ten times the price ‚ a neat reversal of the absurd cost of broadband in South Africans compared to the UK.

The data bundles offered with app-heavy phones may look similar to this deal, but most apps also happen to be data-heavy. Just as you start getting the most out of your phone, the bundle is used up.

Consumers are not idiots. They may love good apps, but even more than apps, they aspire to a killer deal.

* This column also appears in print, in The Citizen every Saturday. You can follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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