Sorry, Steve Jobs, search is happening on smartphones

Today, Compete put to shame Apple CEO Steve Jobs' ridiculous April assertion that "search is not happening on phones." According to the analyst firm, search is indeed happening on mobile phones, and, as I'll explain, it's one major reason why Android has a strategic competitive advantage over iPhone.

Compete announced release of its "Smartphone Intelligence" report, which I have requested copy (After I posted, a Compete spokesperson e-mailed that "we cannot send you the report." But Compete provided additional data that I later incorporated below). Compete asserts that during first quarter, Android and iPhone users discovered two or more new local businesses via search. The keyword is local.

"With the increasing popularity of local search, retailers should ensure their sites are optimized for mobile browsers," Danielle Nohe, Compete's director of technology and entertainment, said in a statement. "Making it easy for consumers to discover businesses via their devices opens local companies up to a whole new customer demographic, and savvy businesses should make sure they're maximizing this opportunity."

It's marketing gobbledygook -- the kind of canned comment I shirk from -- but it makes the point about local search's importance on mobile devices, and search in general. Since I don't have the report, I looked elsewhere for data. According to ComScore, in the United States, 10.3 million mobile phone users searched from their devices in April -- that's a 90 percent year-over-year increase. ComScore's data includes teenagers; anyone 13 years or older.

After I posted, Compete provided some more data insight: 55 percent of smartphone owners have searched locally from their handsets; on average, 15 percent locally search at least once a week. Top local searches:

  • Find local addresses (44 percent)
  • Find local phone numbers (35 percent)
  • Get information on local businesses (30 percent)

The news that search is happening on phones is good for Google, which has continually updated mobile search features, particularly in 2010, with Android getting a little extra juice over iOS (at least with what rolls out to which mobile operating system first). Then there is all the "stuff" Google wraps around mobile search, particularly the local variety, such as keyword advertising. "Near me now" is a brilliant feature for improving local search. The Google search function uses GPS to offer up things close to you, such as the nearest Starbucks.

Awareness swings to Google, which is no surprise. According to Compete, Smartphone awareness is highest for Google Mobile (66 percent), then Citysearch (30 percent), Mobile Yellow Pages (29 percent), and Yelp (17 percent). There's no Apple search, so there's no Apple search awareness.

iOS Apps and Games Du Jour

But that's not to say there aren't other trends favoring iPhone. Fifty-one percent of iPhone owners have five or more games running on their devices, according to compete. By comparison, 46 percent of BlackBerry owners have no games at all (should anyone be surprised about that?). Nohe's advice to developers: "It's evident that iPhone owners have embraced mobile gaming. Developers should turn their attention to targeting other smartphone users in an effort to even out the discrepancies in mobile gaming adoption."

Mobile AppsSay, what? No. No. Developers should target a few platforms from which they can make the most money. Perhaps Nohe's advice would be good if it were a "write once, run everywhere" world. For application development, the US government sets a good example for commercial developers to follow. Among its 18 apps, two platforms are primary: Mobile Web (about a dozen apps) and iPhone (little more than a half-dozen apps). Two of the apps will run on Android and another BlackBerry but not exclusively to either. There are apps exclusive to iPhone or the Mobile Web but not to either Android or BlackBerry.

More regarding applications: Compete found that 27 percent of all smartphone owners had downloaded no apps. By comparison, 97 percent of iPhone owners have downloaded applications. ComScore found applications -- where by the numbers Apple leads -- are hot on mobile phones. In April, about 70 million US mobile phone users accessed at least one application on their device. Eighty percent of smartphone owners accessed mobile applications. However, more people accessed a browser than used applications. As I explained in April, Apple and Google are taking largely opposing approaches to the mobile Web -- applications vs the browser, and the latter favors Google.

Smartphone Social

Compete and ComScore identified the same largest trend on mobile phones, and it's an area where neither Apple nor Google has significant presence: Social networking. Compete claims that an equal number -- 33 percent -- of smartphone owners prefer to send or read tweets on their devices. Trends for smartphone owners accessing Facebook:

  • 66 percent read news feeds
  • 60 percent post status updates
  • 59 percent read or reply to private messages
  • 44 percent post photos

Nohe expressed, in a statement:

Given the increasing popularity of Facebook, Twitter and other social sites, it follows that users are eager to access these outlets on their phones. Based on our findings, I recommend marketers start thinking about new ways to maximize consumers' use of smartphones on social sites, as mobile adoption will likely only increase with time.

Mobile social networking grew by 90 percent year over year to 30 million phone users, according to ComScore. "Social networking is by far the fastest-growing mobile activity right now," said Mark Donovan, ComScore's senior vice president of mobile, in a statement. "With 20 percent of mobile users now accessing social networking sites via their phone, we expect to see both application and browser usage continuing to drive future consumption of social media."

What social networking service does Apple or Google offer? Think about it. Think longer. Well, Google has (choke, choke, gasp, gasp) Buzz. And Apple?

I can't wait to read some future Steve Jobs statement about how social networking is not happening on phones.

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