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Emoji and the iPhone-Fueled Rise of Talking in Tiny Pictures

June 7th, 2012 06:10 admin View Comments

The amount of texting we do is insane. It’s a trendline not likely to drop anytime soon, if the behavior of younger users offers any hints. Those adults-in-training known as teenagers send between 60 and 100 texts per day, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. 

As more of our communication takes place on this plain, colorless form, it’s no surprise that people have begun to seek ways to flesh it out with some character. One increasingly popular way to do that is by using Emoji

The emoticon-style set of graphical icons has actually been around for awhile. Young people and women in Japan have been actively using Emoji since the 1990s, says Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine. In recent months, it has begun to catch on with Western users, fueled in part by the inclusion of an Emoji keyboard in the latest version of iOS

“It’s not accidental that Emoji developed and became popular in Japan, where there is a history of pictorial communication because of the use of Chinese characters,” Ito says. “It was the convergence of this linguistic history with the widespread adoption of text messaging that gave rise to Japan’s unique Emoji culture.”

From Texting to Instagram, Emoji Expands Outside Japan

In the United States, the use of Emoji appears to be dominated mostly by early-adopter types, or at least those with enough curiosity to go into their iPhone’s settings and turn on alternative keyboards. Previously, it could be used on iOS, Android and other platforms only by using third-party apps. But native support by one of the world’s most widely used mobile operating systems has, at the very least, begun to push Emoji slowly toward popular usage. 

Most commonly, Emoji is used to enliven otherwise drab text messages with faces, animals, food, weather, buildings or any number of other tiny graphics. 

However, it’s much more than just a bunch of emoticons. What’s interesting about Emoji is that it has actually begun to take on some qualities of a real language. In Japan, it didn’t take long for users to start stringing together Emoji characters to express ideas more complex than a single emotion or object. This gave rise to a basic sort of syntax, which in some cases allowed people to have entire – albeit, somewhat limited – conversations entirely in Emoji. 

Why Not Just Call?

So, if people are eager to interject emotional cues and nuance into their conversations, why not just call each other? The answer has a lot to do with the contexts in which digital communication is embedded into our lives. 

“In contrast to voice, text messaging and Emoji can be used in a much wider range of settings,” Ito explains. “And can be about side-by-side ambient communication rather than an exchange that requires full attention.”

For the vast majority of direct, remote communication we do, texting turns out to be far more convenient and efficient than calling somebody or initiating a video chat, which are increasingly reserved for longer or more deeply personal exchanges. Hence the 100-message-per-day habit of many young Americans, who are by no means alone in this regard.

In addition to text messages, the graphical character set has also found its way into popular social apps for smartphones. It’s not uncommon to see Emoji woven throughout comment threads under photos in Instagram, for instance, whether to interject a smiley face or to be used to express something more complex.

Emoji is starting to catch on outside Japan, but how likely is it to reach mainstream status in the United States? Not terribly, Ito says, even though “there does seem to be some demand.” The reasons have to do with linguistic differences between the two societies, as well as some technical niceties. 

“Japanese smileys, or kaomoji, are much more elaborate than the U.S. smileys,” she says, “even though the U.S. has had the technological capacity to do more elaborate smileys for even longer than the Japanese have.”

Source: Emoji and the iPhone-Fueled Rise of Talking in Tiny Pictures

Pew: 53% of U.S. Cellphone Owners now Have Smartphones

March 1st, 2012 03:36 admin View Comments

pew-internet-150x150.pngOver half of U.S. cellphone owners now own smartphones, according to new data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. 53% of U.S. cellphone owners are now of the smart variety and 46% of American’s overall own a smartphone. This is a significant inflection point in the mobile revolution, marking a significant trend in how the average interacts with information.

About 88% of U.S. citizens are cellphone users. Smartphone adoption spiked in almost every demographic category since Pew’s last study on the subject in May 2011. 71% of people aged 25-34 are now smartphone owners as are 66% of young adults age 18-29. The industry has moved way past the early adopter and explosive growth stages. Smartphones are now a basic part of the fabric of U.S. society.

Pew’s data says that 20% of smartphone owners describe their device as an Android while 19% said theirs was an iPhone. 6% of owners described their device as a BlackBerry, down 10% from May 2011. Windows (2%) and Palm (1%) were unchanged.

49% of all U.S. men are smartphone owners compared to 44% of women. Like last year, black and Hispanic demographics have higher adoption rates but the growth was not as significant as the non-Hispanic white category, which grew from 30% to 45%. See the chart below.

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If we take all the data together, we see that the typical smartphone user is young, has college experience or a degree and makes more than $30,000 a year. On a base level, that is relatively unchanged from studies we have seen throughout 2011. Where it does change though is that adoption is spread out among all age groups (except the elderly), education levels and ethnic demographics.

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Cellphone owners are also become savvier in identifying their brands. Last year, 14% of cellphone owners were not sure if their phone was smart or not. This year, only 8% were not sure. 4% of cell owners do not know what kind of device they own (like a feature phone or an Android etc.), down from 13% last year.

Source: Pew: 53% of U.S. Cellphone Owners now Have Smartphones

[Research] Half of U.S. Cellphone Owners Research In-Store Goods With Their Devices

January 30th, 2012 01:15 admin View Comments

pew-internet-150x150.pngThe rise of mobile commerce is going to give traditional retail stores a headache. Results from a survey done by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that 25% of cellphone owners used their phone to look up the price of a product before buying it at a store. More than half of cellphone owners used their phones to determine what product to buy while in a retail store.

Pew’s research only touched on the notion of consumers researching products before buying them. The survey did not include a segment on mobile payments, where consumers actually paid for the retails goods in-store with their cellphones. That is an important distinction. Retail stores could stem the tide of users researching products on their phones and buying the product elsewhere if the industry were to combine the research process with the actual transaction.

About 38% of American cellphone owners called a friend for advice about a purchase while shopping. 25% looked up prices for a product found in a store while 24% looked up product reviews. The cumulative total was that 52% of U.S. adult cellphone owners used their cellphones while shopping over the holiday season and 33% use their cellphones specifically for online information of physical goods.

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According to Pew, one in five of these “mobile price matchers” would eventually make a purchase online instead of at the retail store. That translates into 5% of all cellphone owners who made purchases online after stepping foot in a retail store. That may not seem like a big number but when it comes to big retail, each percentage point could mean millions if not near billions of dollars. The old retail adage of “just get them in the store” is starting to slip as easy access to information sits in every consumers’ pockets.

Of the mobile price matchers, 37% decided not to purchase the product t all, 35% purchased the product at the store, 19% purchased the product online and 8% purchased the product at another store.

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The biggest takeaway from Pew’s findings is that mobile commerce starting to significantly affect the conversion rates of physical retail stores. How can retail stores stem the tide of consumers deciding to make a purchase elsewhere once they already have them in the store?

The strategy revolves around having a strong mobile Web presence. That does not necessarily mean an actual native app. If you are in a retail store researching with your phone and you Google the product, the retail store should be one of the first results. With the location abilities of smartphones, the search could even tell you what store or neighborhood you are actually in. The retailer could then be able to offer a deal or an incentive to buy and offer to complete the transaction through the device. The mobile Web app could hook into your mobile wallet and bill you directly or instruct the consumer to see the cashier where payment could be made by either near field communications (NFC) or by scanning a QR code. The idea is to control both the research and the transaction. Channel the consumer to your product.

Did you research your holiday spending on your phone? How have your shopping habits changed since you bought a smartphone? Let us know in the comments.

Source: [Research] Half of U.S. Cellphone Owners Research In-Store Goods With Their Devices

Teens Fall In Love, Share Their Passwords

January 18th, 2012 01:30 admin View Comments

Teenagers-In-Love-150.jpgIt’s 2012, and teenagers are doing the same thing they’ve always done. Except now it’s all happening online.

A thoughtful New York Times article published yesterday speaks to an eerie new trend: In the digital era, teenagers in love want to share their most intimate secrets, ideas and, of course, their Facebook accounts. They leave virtual residue on each others’ Facebook walls, they send Facebook messages, they text each other and video chat. And they even share their passwords with each other.

A 2011 Pew Internet and American Life Project study revealed that 30% of all teen Internet users shared a password with a friend or significant other. Of that percentage, 38% of girls shared a password with a friend or significant other versus only 23% of boys. Teens in the 14-17 age group were more likely to share passwords than those in the 12-13 age group.

Why are teenagers doing something so risky? To feel close. As with sex, teens engaging in this type of behavior aren’t thinking about the potentially huge consequences. After a break-up, an angry ex could hack into the other person’s account and steal their identity for a period of time. Or worse yet, one ex could damage the other person’s online reputation. How easy would it be for an angry teenager to log-in to their ex’s Facebook profile, spam a bunch of friends and post intimate secrets about their relationship? This is the other downside to not changing one’s password often enough. According to the same Pew survey, however, only 17% of teenagers set their profiles to public; so even if this were to happen, at least the information would only broadcast out to a network of friends.

Source: Teens Fall In Love, Share Their Passwords

Survey Finds High Rate of Tablet Adoption Among U.S. Immigrants

February 23rd, 2011 02:30 admin View Comments

ipad150.jpgMobile VOIP company Rebtel has released results from its latest study on U.S. immigrant consumer mobile usage and behavior. According to its findings, 13% of those who responded said they currently own a tablet device, representing approximately five million Americans.

According to the survey, the iPad remains the tablet of choice for immigrants, with two-thirds of current tablet owners indicating they own iPads. According to the survey, French Americans are the highest percentage of tablet owners (17%), followed by Mexican-Americans (15%).

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The survey shows wide disparities among immigrant groups about whether or not they would buy a tablet in the near future. Interestingly, although French Americans ranked the highest in terms of tablet ownership, only 34% said they were looking to buy one – putting them last among the different demographics surveyed. Ghanese and Indian Americans topped the list with 62% and 58% respectively indicating that they do plan to buy a tablet soon.

Across the board, all demographics surveyed listed the iPad as their tablet of choice.

Amazon’s Kindle was the popular second choice as a tablet device, with 9% of those surveyed saying they’re likely to buy one. Ethiopian immigrants expressed the most interest in the Kindle, with 24% saying they’re likely to buy one.

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The results of the survey, say Andres Bernstrom, CEO of Rebtel, point to a shifting brand identification. “Apple has remained the brand of choice for the immigrant and first generation U.S. market,” he says. “We’re witnessing a massive shift in technology brand affinity over the past decade as Sony has been dethroned, and Apple has grabbed the reigns and held tight starting with the iPod moving forward.”

But if these numbers are accurate, they don’t simply mark immigrants’ brand identification and affinity with Apple. A recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study on Americans and their gadgetry found far lower adoptions rates, in general, of tablets. According to its figures, just 4% of Americans own tablets and 5% own e-readers. That’s substantially lower than the 13% in the Rebtel survey.

The Rebtel survey doesn’t give any indication of why immigrants would gravitate to tablets at a higher rate. Size? Mobility? Cost? Internet access?

Source: Survey Finds High Rate of Tablet Adoption Among U.S. Immigrants

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