Okay, Just How Dumb Are iPhone Owners?

Surely they're aware that their phones can get on the Internet. Right?

By  |  Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 4:23 pm

dunceOver at Forbes.com, there’s an article on a worthwhile topic: iPhone applications for businessfolk. There are, however, some things about the piece that I just don’t understand. Such as the fact that it seems to argue that buying an iPhone will let you save money on the pens and paper you’d otherwise tote along when you travel. ($200 to $300 for the phone plus two years’ worth of service fees make for a hefty investment to avoid buying a few Bics and memo pads.)

More important, I’m also mystified by this bit:

Gregg Brockway, president of TripIt, a start-up that organizes travel itineraries online and on mobile devices, says iPhones are the greatest gadgets that business travelers don’t know they have. “Smart-phone sales are up 80%, so the whole category is on fire,” Brockway says. “But only a third of business travelers who have a smart phone realize that they can access the Internet. Of the business travelers who do realize, only 50% of them use their phones to actually access the Internet.”

I assume Brockway (who, by the way, runs a clever and useful service) is quoting some actual survey rather than sharing his gut instinct. But that’s still an astonishing assertion: Two-thirds of the business people who own smartphones don’t realize you can get on the Internet with them. And of the one-third that do understand you can get on the Internet, only half do it. Do the math, and Brockway is saying that about 83% of people who own smartphones aren’t using them to get online.

Now, “smartphone” and “access the Internet” are both squishy terms. There’s no truly definitive way to define what a smartphone is: I used to say they were phones with physical QWERTY keyboards, but the iPhone, BlackBerry Storm,  and other touchscreen phones don’t have them, and are undeniably smartphones. It’s possible that Brockway is defining “smartphone” broadly enough to include cheaper, simpler phones that have some sort of Internet capability.

A broad but entirely accurate definition of “access the Internet” would include Web browsing, but would also cover e-mail, instant messaging, and a bunch of other applications that send bits over the Net. Let’s assume, though, that Brockway is defining “access the Internet” much more strictly–say, to mean using Web sites on a phone. (That would be inconsistent with the premise of the Forbes story, which is about downloadable iPhone applications, but let’s ignore that inconsistency for the moment.)

Then there’s the fact that Brockway says his stat involves business travelers, not the great unwashed masses of phone users. You–or at least I–would surely assume that business travelers as a group are particularly sophisticated about technology usage, not more dunderheaded than the average Joe or Jane. But let’s assume that the reverse is, surprisingly, true–that business travelers are less likely than most folks to be aware that their phones can access the Internet.

So it’s possible that Brockway is saying that among the very large pool of business travelers who own Internet-enabled phones of all sorts, only a third know that their phones have browsers, and only 17 percent are using said browsers. I suppose it’s not utterly inconceivable that that’s true, especially since the phones involved would include some with browsers so rudimentary that it wouldn’t be worth the bother. I still suspect, though, that either (A) the number is just plain wrong; or (B) the definitions of business travelers, smartphones, and/or Internet access are so odd as to make the results less than revealing; or (C) both.

But the Forbes story isn’t about smartphone owners in general. It tells us that the point of Brockway’s factoid is that “iPhones are the greatest gadgets that business travelers don’t know they have.” Is the story saying that most iPhone users don’t know that the iPhone has Internet features? Despite the “i” in its name? Despite the fact that it’s hard to get into its phone features without laying your eyeballs on the browser icon? Despite all the advertising for the phone, most of which emphasize Net-related functions? Despite the fact that it would be kind of goofy to spend hundreds of dollars for an iPhone and use it only to make calls and/or listen to music and watch video? Despite, above all, the fact that the iPhone remains in most respects the best Internet phone on the planet?

Sorry, I don’t buy it. Virtually all iPhone buyers must know that it can get on the Web, and a sizable majority must use that capability at least once in a while. (Not that it’s remotely the last word on the subject, but among the iPhone owners who took Technologizer’s recent survey, the Web features were more heavily used than the phone ones.) They just can’t be that dumb.

And if the point isn’t that iPhone-owning road warriors aren’t aware it’s an Internet phone, but rather that there are scads of nifty business-related apps that most people don’t know about? Well, that’s surely true, and it’s good fodder for an article. But it doesn’t have anything to do with Brockway’s mind-bending stat.



13 Comments For This Post

  1. Alan Says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that many “Business” travelers don’t realize the features of a smartphone. I have watched these business people try to operate a copy machine, fax machine and many other devices around an office and look like an infant. I have also seen these same people not know how to use their laptops to do simple tasks, like create a new folder. Sad thing is I work for a rather large computer company.

  2. Yikes Says:

    “I assume Brockway is quoting some actual survey rather than sharing his gut instinct.”

    Here is an actual survey. According to mmetrics.com: “85 percent of iPhone users browse the mobile Web; iPhone is top device for news and information accessed on mobile browser.”


  3. Schmu Says:

    I personally know real estate agents (not the MOST tech-averse people, but pretty close to it) with iPhones who do not know that it can go online, or even check email, and do not use them for listening to music. I think they like them because the screen is large and easy to read and because of the status bonus when they pull their phone out in front of clients.

  4. bananasfk Says:

    the iphone app ‘iamrich’ proves that iphone owners are beyond hope.

  5. Abhishek Says:

    I guess Apple Iphone is more popular because of its sleek look & ipod features rather than its functionality . That is the main attraction point towards iphone rather than smartphone part.

  6. nikki Says:

    a few of my friends dont take the full advantage of their i-phone

  7. thehumanyawn Says:


    Only the ones who bought the app are beyond hope


    try spelling iPhone right if you want to look like you know what you’re talking about

  8. Video Games Says:

    Well you have to understand that there are is a vast majority of morons who write those magazine articles. Even in forbes magazine. Don’t believe everything you read.

  9. Iz Says:


  10. Lola Batling Says:

    Most of the time…it’s a status thing

  11. Ontario Emperor Says:

    Mystifying. I don’t have an iPhone, but my employer supplies me with a smartphone and pays the premium for Web access. If the vast majority of business users weren’t using this feature, you’d think that the company wouldn’t pay the premium for it.

  12. artpredator Says:

    My husband has a smartphone (blackberry) supplied and with fees paid for by his employer –but he only uses it as a cell.

    My cell has internet but I hate using it so don’t –too clunky! Whjat a waste of my money! I am panting to get an iPhone which is as easy and simple to use as my iTouch and my MacBook Pro. I will access the internet and upload blog posts onto WordPress ASAP!

  13. Dylan Says:

    A smartphone has its own OS aside from the crapware from verizon and att

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