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Surveys Research - Choosing Mobile Survey Hardware

How to Shop for Surveys Research Hardware

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mobile digital devices

Surveys Research Moving to Mobile Digital Devices

Image Courtesy Androinica © 2011

Mobile surveys research enable data collection from a variety of devices, each with their own set of positive and negative features. The main objective in this phase of research planning is to select mobile devices that will enhance the collection of accurate and complete data. The less surveys research respondents are distracted by the features or complexity of the device they are using, the better.

A number of survey software providers were consulted for guidelines for selecting mobile surveys research hardware and technology. A white paper developed by Techneos was especially helpful. See Techneos' white paper on Making the Right Choice for a Mobile Survey Partner for more information about mobile surveys research providers. Techneos conducts diary research, interview and onsite surveys, supplies and works with mobile panels of respondents, and provides consultation for consumer engagement.

Dedicated Surveys Research Hardware and Technology

The preferred option is to use mobile devices that can be dedicated surveys research tools. When this is the case, the criteria for selection will be narrower and less complex.

  • Opt for the smallest hardware with the best cost-benefit configuration for your needs.
  • Make a user-friendly interface and intuitive functionality a priority.
  • Stay focused on hardware that is likely to promote productivity for interviewers.
  • In general, avoid the newest models with the all the latest features.
  • Select tried-and-true devices that have a trouble-free track record.
  • Look first at mobile devices in the mid-price range.
  • If inclement weather is a concern, move up the price range a notch or two.

The Pros and Cons of Using Mobile Phones for Surveys Research

In the first round of considerations, mobile phones may seem like a good option for your mobile surveys research efforts. Mobile phones can be inexpensive and are generally easy to operate. However, to conduct surveys on mobile phones, a wireless plan with a major carrier AT&T, Bell, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or Vodafone) is required. Some respondents will agree to use their own mobile phones via their own wireless providers. However, this generally entails some exchange to compensate for data usage on their carrier plans. The issue is further compounded by the fact that many mobile phone users do not have unlimited data plans. This can result in prohibitively large data transmission charges to respondents -- not a happy thought and not a sustainable practice.

Wireless Connectivity Costs & Considerations

If hardware is provided to surveys research respondents, then a wireless plan must be folded into the overall costs of the surveys research. Consider that these costs may be prohibitive, particularly if a fair number of respondents will be participating in the mobile surveys research. To reduce costs somewhat, devices that utilize a WiFi connection may be preferred. Tablet computers or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) may be substituted for mobile phones as the hardware of choice. WiFi hotspots are increasingly becoming available in communities and in travel-related environments. Very often, hotspots are free. It is a good idea to research WiFi connectivity in places where mobile surveys research is likely to be conducted.

Various mobile surveys research tools are touted as mobile phone capable, but the mobile web is not without challenges for surveys research respondents. The strength of the wireless connection is crucial as all the information exchanged in the mobile surveys research must be sent back and forth via the server and the mobile device. The end result can be a less than satisfactory user experience -- intermittently slow and undependable wireless connectivity can be very frustrating to mobile surveys research participants.

Hardware Variety Challenge - Use What You Have or Replace

Sometimes it is not possible to use just one type of hardware for all the various types of mobile surveys research that will be conducted. If that proves to be the case, a market researcher may select a surveys research software application that is sufficiently flexible to enable the switching out of a variety of hardware types. Java® offers a flexible platform that works on a wide variety of hardware.

The most common approach to mobile surveys research is through the use of SMS messaging. Text messaging with SMS only works for very short surveys -- just a question or two or three. In addition, there are costs associated with each message that is sent and / or received. Some mobile devices come with "native" applications already installed, including Java® applications, which may or may not need to be installed by the end-user. Native applications are optimized for certain platforms so they tend to be the most responsive. Java does offer a common engine that can overcome the need to use different native tools on every type of hardware that might be employed in mobile surveys research.

Security & Centralized Control in Mobile Surveys Research

Another worthwhile feature of surveys research hardware is the capability to track both interviewers and respondents in the field. Wireless solutions for mobile surveys research can provide immediate access to data while allowing management of personnel deployed to the field and respondents who may be participating independently in mobile surveys research. High-end mobile devices will provide security options that enable password protection and automatic time-stamping. If centralized control of the surveys research is preferable, there are hardware packages for project management tools and sophisticated options like centralized control of response type quota, and the like.

With survey participants and interviewers moving around in the field, spotty wireless connections can be problematic. It is important to select mobile surveys research hardware that is not dependent upon a persistent wireless connection to enable data collection. Survey respondents must be able to complete mobile surveys without interruption. Respondents aren't likely to have much incentive to tackle barriers to completing a mobile survey. Java and native applications can run even with the wireless network is unavailable. This is a strong benefit, but it does not preclude an available data plan on respondents carrier contracts. Data plan coverage tends to vary widely by country, which is an important consideration for mobile surveys research that is conducted internationally.

Maintenance & Replacement Considerations

Replacement of mobile surveys research hardware is expensive, but it is part of conducting mobile surveys research. Plan to replace about 25 percent of the devices in your mobile surveys research program each year. Loss will occur due to accidental damage, lost devices, and just wear-and-tear. Replacement costs can be reduced by using screen protectors and soft wrap-around cases that are difficult to remove. This is one area where higher-end devices are likely to prove worth the additional cost, as regular maintenance and protective accessories will help to keep proven hardware in good operating condition. It is helpful to property insurance, too.

Protecting against data loss is critical. Backing up data is easier than ever with web-based services. To protect hardware, data can be backed up using Secure Digital (SD)cards or data synchronization in a cloud environment.

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