Mobile Users Want Local Content

Localized content for mobile devices is in high demand, with growth in use of mobile browsers and downloaded apps accelerating at a fast clip, according to comScore Mobile.

The online research firm’s latest data shows that the number of people who sought local information on a mobile device grew 51 percent from March 2008 to March 2009. The study defines “local content” as “searching for information on maps, movies, business directories or restaurants.”

Furthermore, the mobile browser is the leading access method for seeking local information, with 20.7 million users in March 2009, up 34 percent versus year ago, according to comScore.

However, the strongest growth in the category is coming from downloaded applications, which grew 83 percent versus year ago, followed by SMS at 72 percent, according to comScore.

Yet, despite the attention mobile applications have received from developers, carriers and device makers, they remain the least-popular access mode for mobile access of local information, with 11.3 million users in March.

SMS rates a bit ahead of mobile apps in providing local information with 11.7 million users.

Overwhelmingly, though, the preferred mode to access local content remains the mobile browser.

“Given the explosion in application stores and associated marketing efforts, along with the growth in mobile phones using faster data networks, it would not be surprising within the next six months to see the number of people using downloadable applications surpass SMS for the accessing of local information via mobile devices,” Serge Matta, a senior vice president at comScore, said in a statement.

Among the various local content categories, the number of people accessing online directories has seen the greatest increase during the past year, at 73 percent, followed by restaurants at 70 percent, maps with 63 percent, and movies with 60 percent.

Local search’s increasing role in mobile is prompting local search-focused Internet brands to boost development of mobile content.

AT&T Interactive, for example, recently expanded its online experience across several mobile platforms.

“We’re focused on extending the experience to mobile through our downloadable apps, SMS search and mobile Web apps,” Matt Crowley, chief marketing officer of AT&T Interactive, said in a statement. “In addition, we power local search for AT&T’s MEdiaNet portal and have our YP.COM mobile client preinstalled on capable AT&T smart and feature phones. As a result of this strategy, we’ve seen our reach extended by 6 percent for our combined online and mobile unique web visitor audience.”

Local search brands seeking to capitalize on the trend are looking to extend consumer reach and attract ad dollars through both mobile-optimized Web sites and mobile applications. In addition to, Idearc’s Superpages, R.H. Donnelley’s DexKnows and Yellowbook’s have all released iPhone applications within the last six months.

Driving growth in smartphones

News of local mobile search as an emerging trend comes at a time when the growth of the smartphone market is impacting the mobile market on all fronts.

The latest data out today from the Yankee Group says 41 percent of consumers are likely to purchase a smartphone as their next mobile device, with smartphones comprising 38 percent of all handsets by 2013.

As a result of growing smartphone sales, the mobile market is experiencing unprecedented competition. Most recently, the industry has seen signature upgrades of mobile operating systems and releases of the Apple iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre, while a Storm 2 is expected from RIM, as well as Android handsets from Samsung, HTC, Acer and Motorola.

The success of the smartphone market amid a wider economic slump is also spawning a burgeoning mobile advertising, mobile applications and mobile commerce industry.

Meanwhile, wireless carriers are gunning to fill out their portfolios with exclusive deals for key smartphones while reassessing their relationships with handset makers.

“Traditionally, carriers have had the upper hand when working with device manufacturers to bring a new smartphone to market, but the power dynamics are shifting,” according to the Yankee Group report. “With more competitive entrants, tighter budgets and increased consumer expectations, OEMs and operators need to work together, on equal ground, to thrive.”

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