4 May 2008

Recent immigrants driving advanced mobile phone use, both in Europe and in the US

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Latino boy on mobile phone
Last year, The Economist published an article about ethnographic user research at Swisscom. One of the findings it highlighted was that immigrant workers are the most advanced users of communications technology:

“It is migrants, rather than geeks, who have emerged as the “most aggressive” adopters of new communications tools, says [Swisscom anthropologist Stefana] Broadbent. Dispersed families with strong ties and limited resources have taken to voice-over-internet services, IM and webcams, all of which are cheap or free. They also go online to get news or to download music from home.”

That same trend is also present in the United States, with Latinos depending on their cell phones for more services than other [major] ethnic groups, turning to it for messaging, downloading music, surfing the Web and e-mailing, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

“According to [a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey released last month], on a typical day, Latinos were more likely to use their phone to send or receive a text message, play a mobile game, send or receive e-mail, access the Internet, play music, instant message, or get a map or directions. Fifty-six percent of Latinos said they did at least one of these activities, compared with 50 percent for African Americans and 38 percent for whites.

The numbers are supported by a Forrester Research survey last year that found Latinos were more likely than other users to text, instant or picture message, send e-mail, check the weather, get news or sports updates, research entertainment, check financial accounts and receive stock quotes through their phone.”

Interestingly, “the cell phone in some cases is being used as the primary computer for Latinos, serving up e-mail and the Internet, in the process bridging what has been called the digital divide that still exists for some minority and disadvantaged groups.”

The article mentions many reasons for this: economic (lower mean household income, so less broadband access at home), demographic (family and friends are spread out across the United States and across the border), and cultural (a higher value is placed on staying in touch with family and friends).

But even though these ethnic minorities are advanced users, mobile phone marketing companies consider them as only interested in the cheap offers: “Hendrik Schouten, director of marketing for the Hispanic segment at AT&T, said carriers assumed Latino users wanted the cheapest phones and were more likely to use prepaid plans because of limited budgets.” This now seems to be changing.

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