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Mobile Users Can't Get Enough of Search

Mobile smartphone Internet users

For all the glitz and glamour of owning the newest, most trendy Web-enabled smartphone, it's humble Internet search that makes up the most popular activity among users.

According to the Kelsey Group's the second annual study on mobile device use, more mobile users than ever have Internet-enabled smartphones -- and are using them more often to search for product information and local maps and directions.

The study found that that 18.9 percent of mobile consumers use a smartphone, and among those surveyed, 49.2 percent plan to purchase a new, advanced mobile device within the next two years. It also concluded that the percentage of smartphone users who are accessing Web sites grew 20 percent from 2007 -- from 32.4 percent of smartphone users to 38.9 percent.

"The study indicates mobile devices are now part of the daily routine and becoming mainstream due to advanced capabilities and Internet access," Steve Marshall, Kelsey's director of research and consulting, told InternetNews.com. "This is the first time we're seeing a rooting of smartphone use in daily activities."

That's encouraging news for smartphone makers and mobile carriers, who are banking on phones' advanced features, faster networks and snazzy applications to lure new users. Additionally, wireless data has emerged as a booming revenue driver for carriers. However, capitalizing on it requires successfully winning and keeping the hearts and minds of users -- a task that's more difficult than ever, given growing product choices, pricing plan options and expectations for devices' mobile Internet capabilities.

The Kelsey study also found a growing number of users are browsing online for travel and entertainment information, participating in social networks, using messaging and enjoying videos.

Once online, 15.6 percent of smartphone owners use search to look for local products or services -- an increase from last year's 9.8 percent. There's even greater growth in product searches outside a user's local area: In 2007, just 6.4 percent used mobile handsets for such activity. Today, 14.3 percent are using smartphones for non-local product search.

The findings also indicated that 17.6 percent of users either downloaded or accessed online map and directions this year, compared to 10.8 percent last year.

Additionally, the Kelsey Group found that 9.6 percent are using social networks, compared to just 3.4 percent last year. Additionally, 12.3 percent of users engage in instant messaging using their devices, a behavior last year's study didn't track.

The growing search and browsing activities are due to faster Internet services and better handset designs that offer improved displays and graphics, according to the research firm.

"The iPhone has crated a standard -- a robust platform that is now being replicated and providing better experiences," Marshall said.

For Marshall, the growth in mobile Internet use -- and location-based services, especially -- points to good news for GPS application makers, as well as the mobile advertising businesses.

"Right now [mobile advertising] is an untapped market, underpenetrated, as we're in the early states," he said. "While there is a general slowdown now in advertising due to macroeconomics, this is a silver-lining opportunity being provided."

"Users aren't just grabbing ringtones and wallpaper like they were a year or so ago," he added. "They're becoming sophisticated device users."