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August 18, 2015

UK smartphone users: Forget gimmicks, go back to basics

Survey finds that curved displays and leather backs aren't cutting the mustard.

By Alexander Sword

UK smartphone users are more concerned with devices being able to carry out basic functions than having the latest advanced features.

62 percent of British mobile users think that phones are evolving so fast that manufacturers are forgetting about the basics.

According to the survey by uSwitch.com, 28 percent of users are primarily concerned with how simple the handset is to use.

Mobile reception and battery life were the next highest priorities, both with scores of 21 percent.

Users also wanted more robust smartphones, with 70 percent agreeing that anti-shatter screens add value and 57 percent rating waterproof handsets.

These scores far outweighed those of curved displays, eyeball tracking technology and customised exteriors, found useful by 4 percent, 7 percent and 8 percent respectively.

Flexible smartphones were only seen as useful by 8 percent of mobile users, while 11 percent and 13 percent saw 3D graphics and swappable components as valuable.

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Some innovations were seen as useful. Fingerprint scanning security was valued by the 34 percent of iPhone users who used it on a daily basis.

Mobile payments saw moderate interest, with 24 percent arguing that it was a useful feature and 13 percent classing it as a must-have. 75 percent placed more importance on mobile security than the same time a year ago due to mobile payment technologies.

In addition, better cameras were valued, with 49 percent saying a zoom camera was useful, 35 percent using zoom lenses once a month or more and front-facing cameras used by 31 percent at least every month.

A declining interest in the new was demonstrated by a 200 percent increase in sales of SIM-only deals on the uSwitch website. Only 57 percent of consumers had considered an upgrade in the last year, rising to 61 percent of iPhone owners. 20 percent of iPhone users will only upgrade if Apple releases an iPhone 7.

Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com says: "British smartphone users are wise to gimmickry. While mobile makers need phones that stand out from the throng, they sometimes forget that a phone is primarily a phone, and it still needs to do all the basics extremely well – such as make calls and not run out of battery.

Ben Wood, Chief of Research at CCS Insight, argues that gimmicks are not only high consumer priorities, but are also coming at the expense of other features.

"Over the last decade battery life has always been the top of the list when it comes to the capabilities that consumers care about the most," he says.

"This issue is currently more acute than ever as battery technology struggles to keep up with consumers’ ever increasing usage so it is little surprise to see it featuring so strongly in this latest poll."

This reflects the fact that more demanding features actually lead to a decline in battery life.

"Battery technology has consistently fallen behind other technologies. In fact the most effort goes into engineering around the problem but producing CPUs, screens and such like that use less power, rather than batteries that offer more power."

Wood also argues that new features have increased the complexity of smartphones, another issue raised by the survey.

"It’s interesting to see ‘ease of use’ topping the survey. This is likely a reflection of the growing complexity introduced into smartphones as they have become ‘Swiss Army knife’ products that offer a dazzling array of features that go way beyond the original use case of talking and texting.

"Android, in particular, can be quite confusing for users migrating from a more basic phone. Such as steep learning curve has doubtless contributed to consumers flagging ease of use as an issue."

The research polled 5,306 UK adults over the age of 18 who own a smartphone.

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