For businesses operating in Asia, it is more important than ever that they have mobile-optimized apps and websites, following the release of Google’s annual Consumer Barometer report, which revealed that the region is leading the world in smartphone use and engagement.
According to the study, the Asia-Pacific region is home to two of the top five smartphone-engaged nations. Singapore topped the list with a smartphone penetration rate of 85 percent, followed by South Korea at 80 percent, while many other regional centers, including Malaysia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, have tipped the 50 percent penetration mark.
Smartphones play a key role in Asia for consumers conducting online research before purchasing goods and services, according to the report. In Singapore, almost half of Internet users – 48 percent – have used their smartphone to conduct research, in Vietnam the figure is 40 percent, and in Malaysia it is 41 percent, compared to just 28 percent in the U.S.
However, the report also found that 88 percent of Singaporeans have experienced problems when accessing websites on their phones, “so clearly there’s a lot more work to be done. It’s vital for every business to think mobilefirst,” says Julian Persaud, managing director of Google Southeast Asia.
“This is a massive wake-up call to any business in Singapore without a mobileoptimized site or app,” he says. “In 2014, this is no longer a viable approach – you’re effectively slamming your shop door in the face of your customers.”
Elisa Harca, regional director for Asia at mobile technology agency Red Ant, says lower-cost providers are fueling smartphone adoption in Asia, and as a result, businesses need to be engaging in mobile optimization and localization strategies across the region as a whole.
“Mobile sites and apps are important globally – and in Asia even more so – but whether it’s an app or content for mobile depends on the sector, the brand, the country, and the objectives,” Harca says. “For example, for China, mobile-first starts with the right presence on WeChat and a mobile-ready website. Apps come second to this,” she says.
Emerging markets in Asia with traditionally lower smartphone adoption rates have also registered significant growth in adoption – including Vietnam, which this year has a 36 percent smartphone penetration rate, up from 20 percent last year; Indonesia at 28 percent, up from 14 percent; and Thailand at 40 percent, up from 31 percent.
In a trend not seen outside of Asia, many regional hubs – including Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, and Korea – have higher smartphone adoption than computer adoption. Indeed, for many consumers in the region – especially in Southeast Asia – their mobile is the only connected device they own. In Malaysia for example, more than one-third of users surveyed said a phone is their only device for going online. In Vietnam, this figure is 24 percent, in Singapore it is 16 percent, and in South Korea and Hong Kong, 14 percent of respondents only use a phone to access the Internet. In contrast, only 7 percent of Germans and 6 percent of U.K. residents use their phone as the primary mechanism for getting online, the report found.
Google worked with market research agency Taylor Nelson Sofres to conduct 150,000 interviews across 56 countries for the global consumer study.