How mobile is changing qualitative research

Last week I attended the R-net event on mobile communities, a gathering of young researchers eager to learn about how mobile presents a new and faster way to connect with consumers. There is no question that mobile has fundamentally changed behaviour as society has become increasingly digitised. The UK now has over 50% smartphone penetration, and by 2017 global smartphone penetration is expected to reach the same level (emarketer, 2013). Whilst Europe currently tops global smartphone penetration, the raw numbers show that the Asia-Pacific will dominate in the future, while Africa is also seeing growth. People are opting to access the internet via their smartphones instead of computers not just for the convenience of using the internet on the go, but for the reliability and privacy it offers.

As a result, mobile is set to gain traction as a valid and representative methodology. Through harnessing mobile technologies, researchers now have an additional tool that allows them to connect with consumers globally. A tool, it was argued, that mobile is a game-changer for qualitative research, which has up to now been slower at adapting to the digital technologies in comparison to quantitative approaches which have been more about transferring skills. However, there is still a need for education within the industry as a whole on the role of mobile and how it can be used as a standalone approach, or integrated with more traditional methodologies.

Mobile means that we are now a generation that is ‘always on’: there is no longer a division between the offline and online world. People are always connected via mobile, and are constantly capturing key moments of their lives and sharing them. Social media has made people more open to sharing intimate details of their lives, and researchers can leverage this through new technologies, such as bespoke apps to interact with consumers on-the-go to obtain rich content. Mobile is allowing researchers to reach large numbers of consumers globally and help clients connect with consumers on a deeper and more relevant level.

With the introduction of 4G and the pervasion of Wi-Fi, more people will be connected than ever and at much faster speeds. The question now is how researchers will continue to utilise emerging technologies as part of integrated methodologies. It is expected that geo-fencing and NFC will enhance location-based capabilities, enabling researchers to ask questions in context. So for us, as researchers, there is a need to ensure not only that we harness the advantages of mobile in our approaches, but also to keep track of the shifting digital landscape and stay ahead of the curve. Who knows what the next wave of innovation in research might hold?