Mobile Research: Offline Survey Apps and Mobile Web

As mobile research continues to gain popularity within the market research industry, the demand for a robust mobile research platform is paramount. However, before we can define what constitutes a “robust” platform, we really should determine the requirements of the mobile researcher. Only then can we be sure the platform of choice can meet those demands.

From what we hear from our customers, mobile researchers require a platform that can delivery media-rich surveys with access to the device’s API calls (so the survey can take advantage of the devices native features, e.g. cameras, GPS, etc.) delivering real-time survey data to a remote analytic engine – all this without being dependent on a persistent Internet connection. A tall order, wouldn’t you say?

Below, I’ll discuss several of the most popular modes for conducting mobile research – their advantages and disadvantages.

MOBILE WEB – online surveys for the mobile browser

Prior to mobile research, it was the advent of online survey software that was the technological innovation that impacted the market research industry. It should be no surprise then that the first approach to mobile research was to leverage existing online surveys within the mobile browser – (aka “Mobile Web”). In some ways this approach carries the promise of being truly cross-platform and device-independent; given all smartphones have mobile browsers. Additionally, online survey software can detect the connecting device’s configuration and automatically deliver the appropriate resolution and media supported by that phone’s browser and operating system. What’s not to like?

Where mobile web struggles is with its dependence on connectivity to function. Slow or intermittent connectivity is the Achilles heel of mobile web surveys. With a slow connection, page loading times can become unacceptable and with intermittent connectivity – surveys fail to load altogether. There’s also the issue of mobile web surveys not having the capability to access the device’s native API’s which allow developers to take advantage of rich features such as accessing cameras, sound recording, media, etc. Another consideration is the user interface of online surveys – they are designed for mouse pointers, not human fingers navigating a touch screen. Enter the world of the Survey APP…

MOBILE SURVEY APPS – offline survey apps

Having an offline survey app resident on the device solves most all the issues suffered by mobile web survey. When you have a resident app running on a device, the app can take full advantage of the native API calls provided by the operating system. This allows developers to provide robust features, such as accessing the device’s camera or microphone or accelerometer or GPS chip; all of which provide some very interesting functionality within a survey app. The risk exposure to Internet connectivity also goes away. Apps can store survey data locally on the device when an Internet connection is lost, avoiding disrupting the data collection process. When the Internet connection resumes, the data is automatically uploaded to the remote server. The user interface is also superior, given the app is designed for human touch and not a modified online survey which is designed for a mouse pointer.

The challenge for mobile apps is device-independence. Unfortunately for the mobile developer, each operating system requires a unique app. You cannot run your Apple app on an Android or visa-versa. There are currently four major device platforms within the smartphone market in the U.S. – Apple (iOS); Android; Blackberry; Windows7. This presents a challenge for developers wanting to achieve cross-platform compatibility.

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