A recent Canalys consumer study, which surveyed over 3.000 people across France, Germany and theUK, looked at what features consumers are using on their phones.

The first conclusion is that the use of data services is limited outside of smart phone owners and that customers on SIM-only contracts consume more data than their pre-paid counterparts. “The results go some way to quashing the expectations that SIMonly customers will only use voice and text,” says Canalys.

When comparing the usage habits of respondents with pre-paid contracts versus those with SIM-only contracts, usage was higher in every category for individuals with SIM-only packages.

For example, 27% of SIM-only users regularly browsed web sites on their handsets compared with just 14% of pre-paid users. Equally, the number of customers accessing social networking services on their mobile phones was considerably higher among SIM-only users (16%) when compared with pre-paid users (7%). The use of e-mail was also greater among those who subscribed to SIM-only deals (23%) versus consumers on pre-paid tariffs (16%).

According to Canalys, operators will hope that the uptake of data services will steadily increase across their subscriber bases. “The major challenge that operators face is ensuring there is a sufficient penetration of handsets that are capable of accessing connected services, a questionable factor, especially looking at the difference in usage between handset brands across data services,” the report says.

The other conclusion is that social networking on mobile phones remains a relatively small, but growing service. The research shows that despite the large usage figures quoted by companies such as Facebook, usage of social networking in the mass market remains limited.

Only 10% of end users regularly accessed this type of service from their mobile phones. iPhone users were by far the most active, with almost half regularly accessing social networking services. Figures for BlackBerry (27%) and HTC (23%) users were lower than those for Apple, but were still significantly above the average.

“These results show that usage of social networking services is higher among smart phone users, and as the market leader in the smart phone market, it is fair to assume that usage on Nokia’s flagship products would be similar. Usage of social networking services across all of its products, however, was only 7%,” says Canalys.

When looking at e-mail usage on mobile phones, BlackBerry owners were the most active with 68% regularly using e-mail on their handsets. Owners of handsets from Apple (67%) and HTC (53%) also used e-mail far more regularly than those who owned handsets from the leading vendors, where on average only 15% of end users were regularly using e-mail on their phones.

Web site browsing also revealed contrasting usage patterns: 73% of iPhone users regularly browsed web sites on their handsets; 60% of BlackBerry owners and 56% of HTC owners had similar habits.

Conversely, just 8% of Motorola owners regularly browsed web sites on their phones and, though web browsing was higher on phones from LG (18%), Samsung (17%), Nokia (16%) and Sony Ericsson (16%), it was still significantly below that of iPhone users.

Navigation services were cited by 36% of end users as a feature that they wanted on their next mobile phone that they did not have today. The majority of respondents were keen to have an in-car turn-by-turn solution on their next phone.

“But as many navigation solution providers are now discovering, it is not good enough just to supply the software. For in-car navigation to be successful on mobile phones the experience of portable navigation devices (PNDs) needs to be matched or exceeded. This means that car kits or cradles need to be supplied alongside the software at the time of purchase. In addition, events such as incoming calls and other alerts need to be handled in a way that provides minimal disruption to the navigation experience,” analysts conclude.

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