Let me throw some impressive statistics at you to begin. There are 500 million mobile subscribers in the world. 12-14 million new mobile subscribers are being added every month. That means, mobile penetration is growing at a whopping 30% per annum in rural areas.
The difference between mobile phones and computers is that, users operate computers in their "personal" space, while users operate mobile phones in their "intimate" space. That means that unlike laptops and tablets, mobile devices accompany most users everywhere they go, every single day. Mobile technology is opening doors for researchers to reach the masses in diverse and culturally complex countries, like India.
Mobile research is beneficial for 3 reasons: cost-effective, surveys are executed in real-time and it allows researchers to contact hard-to-reach target audiences across a wider geography. Unfortunately, many researchers today are hesitant to try out this new technology for reasons such as: surveys would require participants to have a smart phone, qualitative questions would be difficult to scale, battery-life and reception issues could play a factor, and difficulty of designing a simple questionnaire for that tiny screen.
Regardless of the constraints, researchers need to be flexible and adapt to our constantly-changing digital society. Here are some key ways researchers have begun to harness the information that is available now as a result of mobile devices.
Digital Ethnography: Respondents send text and pictures to researchers at random times of the day of what they are doing and where they are. This application allows immediate responses and enhances the richness of the data collected.
Social networking on mobile: Social networking through mobile provides access to moving online focus group discussions to mobile 'Tweet' surveys.
Whether it is convenient or not, mobile devices seem to be the way to reach a broad range of participants and retrieve immediate responses, In my opinion, researchers need to put the pen and paper down, and start to develop digital, simple (maybe even one question) surveys.
Mobile Research IS most definitely the next big thing.