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How mobile apps are bringing a new dimension to research

According to the GSMA, half the world’s population owned a mobile phone in 2013 and that figure is expected to rise to four billion by 2018. According to our research, smartphone sales increased 48% in the developed world in 2013 and at a much higher growth rate of 164% in emerging countries[1], resulting in a step-change in the way people across the globe access the internet. A combination of poor fixed line infrastructure and the increased affordability of smartphones mean that consumers in emerging countries are now significantly more likely to access the internet from the phone than from a PC. With smartphones comes the capability for owners to document and share their lives – and this opens up opportunities for market researchers.

Engaging with consumers via their smartphones gives researchers an unprecedented opportunity to get closer than ever and zoom in on their daily routines, even in real time. The smartphone becomes a lens through which researchers can continuously observe consumers’ behavior. Smartphones and mobile apps offer more convenient ways to reach respondents – and they have the added benefit of offering immediate and highly visual feedback. Respondents are able to capture and record events as they happen, to upload photos and participate in discussions. And the researchers can ask questions immediately, moderate discussions and delve into areas of particular interest the instant they arise. So what kind of research can be done in this way

SocioLog in action

We recently ran a study on GfK SocioLog research app, looking at the types of smartphone apps being used in Asia Pacific, CEE & META and Latin America and the relationships that the users had with them. Participants downloaded the GfK SocioLog App and were invited to take part in a number of tasks ranging from simple texting and photo uploading, to more creative exercises such as writing a love poem to their favourite app. The project was run as a qualitative study, working with small groups of people in each country to bring to light any ‘big picture’ areas of interest, which could then be investigated further through large scale quantitative research.

Key findings include:

  • Apps are sourced from five main communication channels: app stores, family, friends and colleagues, search engines, newsletters and technology websites
  • Apps tend to solve five main problems: communication, information gathering, killing time, saving time and effort, and entertaining
  • Social networking apps are the most popular and most used. Keeping people connected to their friends is an important benefit, as is the fact they are free
  • The next most popular choices are navigation, news, games and apps that help be more productive/efficient
  • The most popular type of apps differ by region: while social networking comes first, in APAC photo & video and news come next, in CEE & META it is navigation and fitness, and in LATAM it is music and photo & video.


This study provided some key insights into how to use mobile apps effectively for qualitative research:

  • Participants need to feel engaged, motivated and heard. The richest insights in the study came from participants who were fully immersed in the project and had a high level of buy-in
  • Making the research process fun for participants is crucial to success – be prepared to play with your respondents in order to tease out killer insights
  • Mix it up. Keep everyone on their toes and hold your respondents’ attention by using different formats for information gathering. Make your exercises as interactive as possible and embrace the technological possibilities provided by the smartphone.


SocioLog has the potential to put researchers into consumers’ pockets to gain unprecedented levels of insight into a wealth of topics. Keeping consumers engaged will be one of the biggest challenges, but with the right approach, the rewards from this emerging technique are enormous.

Susie Zeng is part of GfK’s Digital Market Intelligence and can be reached at

[1] GfK Global consumer tech devices retail sales revenue in USD – top tier products,  December 2013


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1 Comment


Thanks for the post the smartphone take up is undeniable. However, I would like to make a few points. It is all about Android in the emerging markets. The smartphones are not like those in the “developed” world. In the emerging markets of Africa, and Asia the devices are typically, smaller and less powerful. They also have to work on 2G and patchy 3G networks. For example india is at only 12% 3G penetration according to the GSMA and a typical device in Africa according to our data is 3.5″ screen.

And as you indicate, the mobile is definitely the primary access device for many.