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.

Considering running your iPad Survey App as an iPad Survey Kiosk?

Although Opinionmeter is a one-stop survey shop – supporting a wide range of survey technologies (mobile research, online surveys, onsite surveys – intercept and survey kiosk, paper, etc.), one of the areas where we have unique expertise is with the self-administered, stand-alone survey kiosk. In fact, my father, Bob Strickland patented the first survey kiosk back in the 70’s!

When it comes to touch screen systems, Elo Touch Systems has been our vendor of choice for survey kiosks. There are several excellent all-in-one computer vendors such as IBM and Planar, but given Elo invented touch screen technology and has the widest range of screen technologies (resistive, capacitive, infrared, acoustic touch, intellitouch), we went with them as our preferred vendor. We have been very pleased with Elo and continue to use their hardware, but we are beginning to receive more requests for the flexibility only a tablet computer can provide. Let me explain… when using a tablet within a kiosk enclosure you’re getting two systems in one: stand-alone and mobile. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts: “At any time, we can unlock and remove the iPad from its iPad Kiosk enclosure (where it’s running off AC and in lock-down mode), and continue using the same device as a mobile intercept research tool.” It’s not that simple however, there are several considerations when using a tablet computer as a survey kiosk (or any type of kiosk for that matter). The following are a few of the categories to consider:

Connectivity: Wi-Fi comes standard in tablets and some have Cellular options (e.g. iPad), but it’s not always possible to connect tablets via Ethernet. Be sure your installation doesn’t require Ethernet cabling before deciding on a tablet PC for your kiosk solution.

Screen considerations:

  • Screen Size – tablet computer screen dimensions are normally in the range of 8-10”, whereas touch computers come in a variety of sizes: 10, 15, 17, 19” and larger.
  • Durability – This is the area I would pay most attention to. We prefer Elo’s intellitouch screen technology; given it has a thick layer of glass as well as high touch sensitivity. This screen technology is similar to the rugged touch screens you find in many ATM machines. The iPad uses a Multi-Touch display with IPS technology. This screen will be more likely to shatter and scratch, so depending on the environment, you may want to consider using one of the protective covers available for the iPad (e.g. www.zagg.com/invisibleSHIELD)
  • Outdoor use – if your survey kiosk will be placed outdoors, you need to plan for moisture and consider issues related to reflection. You’ll want to be sure the screen you chose is sealed and the contrast can be adjusted to reduce reflection from sunlight.

Recommended Device Configuration for the iPad Survey Kiosk: when using the iPad as your tablet of choice within your survey kiosk enclosure, we recommend securing your iOS device with the following device configurations. Each of these settings can be found in the Settings > General tab in the iOS device.

  • Turning off Multitasking Gestures
  • Turn Passcode On
  • Turn off Auto Correction – unless your survey app does this for you. Opinionmeter’s TouchPoint Mobile app handles this within the app.
  • Multilingual keyboard – If your survey contains more than one language, make sure the iOS build supports the localization you plan to use within your survey instrument.
  • Use a locally installed Survey App, not a Browser-based solution – we do not recommend attempting to run a browser based survey solution on survey devices (e.g. online survey or web survey software). There are many advantages to running a locally installed survey app when it comes to using any type of device for capturing customer feedback, especially survey kiosk. A few of the most important are:

Offline data capture – with a locally installed survey app, if your Internet connectivity goes down, your survey doesn’t! Whereas if you are running online survey software on a device, when you lose your Internet connection, you lose your app!

  • User Interface – Online survey software’s user-interface is designed for a mouse not a finger!
  • Security – A locally installed app can lock down the device and prevent respondent access to other areas of the system
  • Feature/Functionality – Only the survey app that is designed for the device’s operating system, can utilize the native API’s to provide rich feature/functionality. For example, the TouchPoint Mobile survey app can control the microphone for capturing verbatim comments or the camera for images or video. This type of functionality cannot be provided using browser-based survey solutions.

I hope the above will assist you in your next onsite research project!

Morgan Strickland

Opinionmeter

Giving voice to the Consumer!

Throughout Opinionmeter’s long history, we have focused exclusively on building survey solutions that enable businesses to collect feedback from their customers. The survey apps that we have designed have been provided to businesses and market researches to capture consumer feedback in a variety of ways: in store kiosks, mobile intercept surveying, point-of-sale feedback, exit surveys, audience response, etc.

With the upcoming release of our newest app – “TouchPoint Feedback” – we will for the first time be making our survey technology available directly to the general public. This is a radical change for Opinionmeter – in fact it’s a 180 degree shift – providing the survey technology to the general public. Using “TouchPoint Feedback” consumers will be able to use their own smart phones or tablets to give real-time feedback to the local merchants and businesses they frequent.

We’re very excited about this new approach and have been building a number of powerful options into the survey software. For example, the survey app will provide both push and pull technologies. For those consumers who opt-into receiving survey invitations from merchants they frequent, those merchants can send push notifications to the consumers smart phones when a new survey is available to download. When it comes to pulling or downloading surveys to their devices, consumers will have the following three options:

1. “Enter a Survey Code” – by entering a survey code into the survey app, the merchant’s survey will automatically download to the device. Survey codes are usually found on “call to action” signage within a business or store.

2. “Enter a Business Name” – by entering a business name, consumers can search for a business within a certain distance radius to where they are currently located and download any available surveys.

3. “Find Surveys Around Me” – Consumers and easily find any participating merchant or store within a distance radius from where the consumer is at any given time.

When it comes to consumer research apps that are free to the consumer, motivation becomes a key point. For this reason, we are evaluating several options for incenting the consumer to actively give voice to their opinions and participate in helping their community of merchants provide better products and services.

This indeed is an exciting time for Opinionmeter and we’re looking forward to this next chapter in our ongoing development!