Mobile users don’t search, they locate

I often talk about the importance of understanding user ‘missions’ when delivering mobile services. These missions are informed by numerous factors of context, ranging from location and time available to budget constraints and existing brand affinities.

Walter Adamson, who chaired a session at our recent MEX conference, has written an interesting article which summarises some of the relevant findings in this area which came out of the event – read it here.

M-Spatial, a location-based services provider, has also released some figures which shed light on how users are searching for ‘real world’ shops, restaurants and facilities from their mobile devices. This is a particularly important area for mobile user experience because it bridges the gap between what’s happening virtually on the screen and actual interaction with the physical environment.

On a macro-scale, mobile devices are becoming increasingly influential on their surroundings – whether it is a teenager walking down the street playing music from the speaker on their phone (has anyone else noticed how many people are doing this?) or a user scanning a screen-based barcode to gain access to a turnstyle (recently trialled by O2 at Twickenham Rugby stadium) – handsets are becoming remote controls for the real world.

M-Spatial’s study is based on the usage of its local search application, which it white labels for Vodafone, Orange and O2 among others. According to the figures, supermarket retailer Tesco was the most requested brand in the UK market during Q2 2006. Others in the top 10 included Pizza Hut (2nd), Travel Inn (8th) and automotive retailer Halfords (6th).

All of these companies have major brands, easily recognised by the majority of UK consumers. This suggests to me that users are even more ‘mission-based’ in the mobile environment than I first suspected. They are using their handsets to accomplish very specific objectives – in this case, finding a particular brand with which they have an existing affinity. This is in contrast to the more generalised ‘search, explore and browse’ model employed in the desktop environment.

As discussed in a previous article entitled ‘Advertising – mission or exploration?‘, mobile services should be designed to help users achieve the objective they’ve already specified rather than lead them off at a tangent. This is the key difference between mobile and other mediums : advertising on the desktop, TV and radio is based around distracting and generating interest among users; mobile services should be invisible channels which help the user accomplish their mission.

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  1. 1

    Very good point that mobile phone service is different to desktop. Many people still want to make mobile phone a mini version PC. That should not be prominsing although OS and resource capability of mobile phones are approaching to PC. Don’t try to simply copy everything from PC to mobile phone.

  2. 3

    Mobile isn’t desktop

    At Reboot, it was a pleasure to meet Timo Arnall. We had a short ‘I’ve been reading your blog’ conversation: like Marko Ahtisaari’s blog, Timo’s blog and links are important in shaping and stimulating my views about mobile devices,

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