Smartphones. Almost everyone has one. According to comScore, smartphones made up 67 percent of the mobile market. If you have ever been on a busy train or bus, you’ve seen plenty of people whip out their iPhones or other smartphones to text, update their Facebook and Twitter status, play those delightfully addictive games, listen to music and even watch videos. Of course, people also use still their smartphones to talk.
The market research industry has followed suit with 41 percent of research suppliers choosing mobile surveys (based on the Winter 2014 GreenBook Research Industry Trends report). There are some advantages for mobile surveys compared to online surveys, but there are disadvantages that can limit the usefulness of such surveys as well.
- Mobile surveys may be the best way to reach audiences who frequently use their smartphones, which are typically Millenials and business people.
- Mobile surveys are easy to administer by sending the target audience an email with a link to download an app or the survey can be developed specifically for mobile Internet.
- By using a smartphones GPS, researchers can determine if the intended respondent is the person actually taking the survey, and be assured that it’s not a “bot” or “spyder” program.
- Mobile surveys are more versatile than online surveys in that respondents can send pictures, record their voice, or write notes/diaries all on their smartphone. This is especially helpful if the survey requires the respondent to complete specific tasks.
- Researchers using mobile surveys can get real-time or local input. The supplier doesn’t have to wait until the respondent logs into a computer. The surveys can be completed, for example, while the respondent is on the train, taking a walk, or waiting for their food to arrive at a restaurant.
- Mobile survey applications must be made suitable for a variety of smartphones. From iPhones to Android phones to Windows phones, and now the new Amazon Fire, there are many different operating systems, and a mobile app has to be made for each one, if researchers want a less skewed sample. There are also several tablets currently on the market, and most of them have different operating systems. Mobile survey applications must also be made suitable for different versions of those systems.
- Mobile surveys are not suitable for lengthy or complex questions. Because a respondent can complete a survey at a time of their own choosing, a lengthy or complex survey can be daunting to a respondent who may become bored. Because we can use smartphones to multitask, respondents can become easily distracted by a game, text messages, phone calls, and other apps. They may never complete the survey.
- Researchers and developers should also be aware of the file size of survey applications. Smartphones have limited hard drive space. With all of the different apps, pictures, videos, and music, a large app may not fit on the smartphone or a file too big may take up too many of the smartphones resources and cause problems. Respondents may never complete the survey and delete the app instead.
- Most importantly, researchers have to think about network speed and availability. People living in large cities are more likely to have better network coverage than a person living in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Data coverage is different from voice coverage. So while there may be an area with great voice coverage, that area may be lacking in data coverage. This could potentially skew sample towards respondents who live in areas with better network coverage.
- Speaking of skewed results, some target audiences may not even have a smartphone or a data plan due to economic constraints. In general population surveys, the results could definitely be skewed to more affluent and/or younger audiences.
Before conducting a survey, researchers should take into account the advantages and disadvantages of the survey. Next they should ask themselves if using a mobile survey will achieve their goals. For researchers conducting a survey for a target audience of condo owners living in large cities, a mobile survey is applicable. However, if the researchers’ target audience is upstate New York homeowners, then a mobile survey might not be the best choice.