Vivek Bhaskaran of Survey Analytics considers how the iPad could change the fieldwork business.
Will the iPad kill the paper survey?
The iPad is an amazing tool. It’s lightweight, works on Wi-Fi and 3G and runs thousands of different apps. It’s reinvented personal computing. Most importantly for us, it’s a consumer tool with a consumer price tag. The App Store combined with the low cost will, I believe, turn the iPad into a massively efficient and cost-effective research tool for the field survey business.
Anyone who’s been in the market research business knows about the exponential rise of online research and the decline of field and telephone surveys. Although you could argue that the face-to-face and telephone survey business is not declining in the strict sense, it’s definitely not growing at nearly the same rate as online research.
The iPad changes the field survey business because it gives researchers direct access to the respondents in a way that was simply not possible with paper. Remember, the iPad is a connected device that consumers are very familiar with handling – or at least they are getting familiar at the rate of a million a month.
Field surveys are usually very expensive to run – you have to consider staff, location, data collection, data entry and report generation. Most companies turn to face-to-face surveys when they cannot find their target population easily online, or they are interested in tapping into the opinions at purchasing time. This idea of purchase intent at the mall is important, because research shows that the bulk of all purchasing decisions are made in store.
The iPad does not do anything for staff or location – you still have to hire folks to intercept people at the mall – but data collection, entry and reporting can now be done in real time. In the high-cost, low-margin business of field surveys this will be a game changer. Imagine going to your client and saying, “Not only can we deploy a survey in malls A, B and C simultaneously, we can enable complex branching, logic and quota controls in real-time and produce a live dashboard throughout the day as data is being collected.” It’s like going from paper to SPSS in 30 seconds.
The iPad may not be the first tablet device in the survey business, but earlier generations of handheld survey options were not cost-effective because they were targeting a very specific use case and business model. In the case of the iPad you can get the device for about $500 then pay about $30 to be connected to the 3G or Wi-Fi network. This sort of pricing is only possible if you’re selling lots of them. Fortunately, Apple is selling millions. The App Store then allows other companies to create apps that are specific for a target market – there are a couple of different tool providers that have built apps on top of the iPad platform to collect data and synchronise it with a central repository in real time.
The obvious question to ask here is, how come other tablets and PDAs have not changed the paper survey business? The iPad has three distinct advantages that other PDAs and handheld solutions do not have:
- Usability and familiarity - The ease with which you can start operating an iPad, thanks to Apple’s incessant focus on usability and the consumer, has not been achieved by any other vendor. If you give an iPad to a consumer they can start operating it within a few minutes. Even my two-and-a-half year old daughter can start apps, scroll pages, navigate back home and shut the device down.
- Battery life - No handheld computing device of similar weight or form has the battery life of an iPad.
- The App Store - The iPhone/iPad development platform has attracted over a million developers to the platform. There is no other comparable mobile development platform - more developers and companies are writing code for the platform than for netbooks or PDAs. This will allow for massive innovation in the software that can be use for collecting data.
Finally, you can charge more for this service. I’m a big proponent of value-based pricing, which is the only way to avoid the curse of commoditisation. The connected nature of this type of data-collection gives you the ability to communicate with your field staff in real-time on the target audience and population that you are trying to reach. That’s value worth paying for.
If you are thinking of conducting a field survey, it’s worth considering the iPad as a cutting edge, cost-effective and, more importantly, efficient way to deliver your research study. Who wouldn’t take real-time reports over two-week-old ones?
Vivek Bhaskaran is president and CEO of online survey software provider Survey Analytics.