ACM MobileAdaption

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					                                                                           BY SUPRATEEK SARKER AND
                                                                                JOHN D. WELLS

 Without device   The emergence of m-commerce
                  has generated considerable
 adoption, there is no
                  excitement among both practi-
 mobile commerce. tioners and academics. The mass
 media continually extols each seemingly novel
 idea about m-communication, m-collaboration,
 and m-commerce, and presents many speculations
 regarding the endless potential of wireless tech-
 nology [7]. Manufacturers also continue to pro-
 duce wireless handheld devices based on their
 often abstract conceptions of what the “gener-
 alized” mobile user might value and desire. What

 appears to be missing, however, is a clear under-
 standing of the motivations and circumstances
 surrounding mobile device use and adoption from
 the perspective of the consumers themselves. Rec-
 ognizing that m-commerce cannot fulfill its
 potential without widespread proliferation of

 1The terms “user,” “consumer,” and “individual” are used interchangeably in this article.

                                                                   COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM December 2003/Vol. 46, No. 12   35
           TWO BROAD factors affecting
           the implementation and acceptance of wireless
           phones emerged: Interface characteristics and
           network capabilities.

wireless devices and related applications [5], there                                 However, rather than merely instantiating existing
is a clear need to comprehend how and why                                            theories in a new context, which could potentially
individuals (potential m-commerce consumers)                                         ignore unique issues associated with mobile devices,
adopt such devices.                                                                  we take an approach grounded in practice and in the
   Here, we describe the results of an ongoing                                       points-of-view of actual users. Based on the study,
                                                                                                              we offer a framework providing
  Study Conducted in: A large rural public university setting in the U.S.                                     an integrative view of the key
 Participating Individuals Group #1 consisted of 5 (out of 7) officers of a large student club in the         issues related to mobile device
                           university (the “MIS Club”). All members were from the U.S.
                                                                                                              use and adoption by individuals.
                           Group #2 consisted of 5 members, all of whom were exchange students visiting
 (Total 21 participants)   from a Northern European country (Norway).                                         We believe the framework, as
                           Group #3 consisted of 5 members, all of them being from the Asian-Pacific
                                                                                                              represented in the figure on the
                           region (3 from Thailand, 1 from China, and 1 from S. Korea).                       next page, will not only sensitize
                           Group #4 consisted of 4 members, who were also team members for an e-              practice-oriented readers to per-
                           commerce course term project. All members were from the U.S.
                                                                                                              tinent factors but also provide
                           Group # 5 consisted of all 7 officers of a large student club in the university
                           (the “MIS Club”). All members were from the U.S.                                   researchers with a map that can
 Period of Participation 3 weeks (Data collection involving Groups 4 and 5 was initiated at the conclusion
                                                                                                              help motivate empirical studies
                           of the study of Groups 1, 2, and 3).                                               on this topic.
 Technology, service,          •Device: Samsung SPH-N300.                                                        The framework is structured as
 and training provided         •Sprint service that allowed voice communication, and well as use of other
                                data features.                                                                an I-P-O (Input-Process-Output)
                               •90-minute training session on voice features, WAP browsing, text-messaging,   model, and consists of: Inputs
                                connection to Internet services, conducted by the research team.

 Data Collection and           •30-minute (approx.) interviews with participants each week; all interviews
                                                                                                              such as User characteristics, Mes-
 Analysis                       were transcribed.                                                             sage/task characteristics, Technol-
                               •Researchers adopted an interpretive stance during the study.
                               •Multiple researchers involved in each interview.                              ogy characteristics, Modality of
                               •Sometimes multiple interviewees in the same session.
                               •Analysis followed the spirit of coding procedures recommended in the          Mobility, and the Surrounding
                                Grounded Theory Methodology (GTM).
                                  o Open coding, wherein transcripts are read and important concepts
                                                                                                              Context; Process, consisting of
                                    were identified.
                                  o Axial coding, wherein concepts were organized into meaningful categories.
                                                                                                              two interacting use subprocesses
                                  o Selective coding, wherein all other categories were linked to the core    of Exploration and Experimenta-
                                    category of mobile technology use.
                                                                                                              tion, and Assessment of Experi-
                                                                                                              ence; and Output, referring to the
Some methodological         exploratory research project (see outcome of the use process, specifically, the actual
details about the           the table here for details about Adoption Decision/Behaviors.
exploratory study.
                            the study) designed to unearth
                            the key factors affecting the use Inputs: Factors Influencing Use
and adoption of handheld hybrid mobile devices Individual Characteristics. Various factors such
(devices offering both voice and data features). It is as demographics, technology-related skills, and
useful to mention initially that well-established per- culture were identified as important determinants
spectives exist, such as the Technology Acceptance influencing the implementation and acceptance of
Model and Diffusion of Innovation framework, wireless handheld phones; three of the most promi-
which offer factors such as “ease of use and useful- nent follow.
ness,” “relative advantage,” “compatibility,” “com-                                       The age of the potential adopter, which often can
plexity,” “communicability,” and “triability” [3] that predict whether or not an individual is likely to use
can, in very general terms, help explain the adoption mobile technology, especially its data features. Age,
of technologies (including, perhaps, mobile devices). or stage in life, seemed to influence the manner in

36       December 2003/Vol. 46, No. 12 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM
which the mobile device users balanced the expenses                                   you will find something under. And before you can
and convenience associated with mobility.                                             browse the submenus on the Web you have to get on
   Technology self-efficacy, which refers to an individ-                              the Web” or “there is just too much going on [in] the
ual’s degree of confidence in using high-tech devices,                                messaging system.. if you send a message [it should
was observed an important predictor of use and                                        be] two presses away… you go on the menu, it says
adoption behaviors. Interestingly, those with prior                                   ‘message’; you go in there, you type it, you send it,
exposure to other mobile devices were found to                                        that’s it.”
encounter difficulties in switching from their exist-                                    Network capabilities: Poor network characteristics
ing technological frames [8], which included differ-                                  acted as severe inhibitors to use and adoption. For
ent sets of features, sequences of keystrokes to                                      example, the lack of coverage in many areas tended
accomplish a task, and expectations of performance                                    to reduce the sense of freedom and safety in many
in comparison with other devices.                                                     subjects’ minds. The limited reach of mobile tech-
   Cultural origin frequently plays a role in defining                                nology due to lack of (or limitations in) capability to
individuals’ patterns of usage of mobile technology.                                  communicate across networks (such as Sprint and
In particular, the symbolic meaning of text messag-                                   Verizon) also dampened the use process and enthu-
ing over a mobile device can be different across cul-                                 siasm for adoption. Finally, the lack of reliability and
                                                                                                              reduced responsiveness of the
                                                                                                              network (downtime) con-
                                     - Age                                                                    tributed significantly toward
 COMMUNICATION/TASK                  - Culture
 CHARACTERISTICS                     - Technological Self-Efficacy                                            eroding the users’ trust in (and,
 - Number of Interacting Participants and Prior Experience
 - Immediacy of Response
                                                                                                              thus, their interest in using)
 - Volume of Communication
 - Communication Objectives
                                                                                                              wireless technology.
                                                     USE PROCESS                                                 Communication/Task Char-
 MODALITY OF                       EXPLORATION and                   ASSESSMENT OF        ADOPTION            acteristics. As mobile device fea-
 MOBILITY                          EXPERIMENTATION                   EXPERIENCE           OUTCOME
 - Type (Traveling,                - Media Choice (Voice/            - Functional         - Continuity of Use tures are introduced, new
 - Extent
                                     Data, Synchronicity)
                                   - Extent & Exclusiveness
                                                                     - Psychosocial
                                                                     - Relational
                                                                                            Over Time
                                                                                          - Resource
                                                                                                              potential applications are discov-
                                   - Adjustment of Frames                                   Commitment        ered and use practices continue
                                                                                                              to evolve. Nevertheless, a num-
 TECHNOLOGY                                                                                                   ber of currently observable use-
 - Interface Characteristics        CONTEXT                                                                   patterns, particularly related to
 - Network Capabilities             - Economic Factors
                                    - Social Factors                                                          mobile text messaging, are wor-
                                    - Critical Mass of Subscribers
                                      and Available Services
                                                                                                              thy of discussion.
                                                                                                                 Number of interacting partici-
                                                                                                              pants: Mobile devices appeared to
tures, depending on “power distance.” For example,                                    An integrated           be very suitable for accessing
in high power distance cultures such as Korea, text                                   framework for the       information unilaterally (reading
                                                                                      use and adoption of
messaging to individuals such as work supervisors                                     mobile handheld         email, checking stock quotes and
was seen as a serious offense. In contrast, users from                                devices.                news headlines), especially when
lower power distance cultures such as Norway did                                                              the subject was seeking to fill a
not see text messaging as being offensive, though                                     time slot that would otherwise be lost (during a short
some did indicate that text messaging could be                                        bus ride, while waiting in a line). Also, bilateral use of
potentially unsuitable for formal communication                                       data features (such as through text messaging) was
with someone unfamiliar due to the frequent use of                                    quite effective under many circumstances; however,
abbreviations and slang terms.                                                        simultaneous multi-lateral use was difficult, though
   Technology Characteristics. Two broad factors                                      not infeasible [2].
affecting the implementation and acceptance of                                           Immediacy of response desired: Examples include
wireless phones emerged, as described here.                                           situations when an immediate confirmation of a
   Interface characteristics: Users were usually quite                                message is desired due to urgency of the circum-
forgiving of physical limitations of the device due to                                stances; where there exists a need for micro-coordi-
technological constraints, but were bothered by                                       nation of activities due to the rapidly changing
flaws in the logical interface of the devices, as seen in                             physical positions and schedules of communicators
the following illustrative comments: “They need to                                    [6]; and where the value/relevance of an idea to the
make it easier for normal people to use, not just                                     recipient is very time sensitive.
techno-geeks,” or “you don’t know which sub-menu                                         Volume of communication desired can influence use

                                                                                          COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM December 2003/Vol. 46, No. 12   37
patterns. For example, mobile text messaging was                 for those traveling often, in contrast with the yearn-
seen as suitable when short messages were                        ing for freedom expressed by those frequently wan-
sent/exchanged. Current constraints with respect to              dering. Further, different characteristics of
the device, especially the nature of the keyboard,               technologies were associated with different types
made it virtually infeasible to participate in a high-           and extent of mobility. For example, the optimal size
volume text exchange.                                            of a device associated with wandering was necessar-
   Communication objectives may be classified as                 ily lower than an acceptable device size when visit-
conveyance, convergence, and passive reception.                  ing or traveling, and one needed a larger reach of the
Different media (voice, text messaging, and email)               technological network when traveling than when
were viewed as suitable for different objectives, given          wandering.
a social context. For example, mobile text messaging                Context. Undoubtedly, the surrounding socio-
seemed suitable for conveying a piece of informa-                economic context plays an important moderating

        sufficient number of mobile Web services increased
        the use of data features and consequently,
        the chance of adoption.

tion, rather than when individuals needed conver-                role on the effect of the factors discussed previously.
gence on a shared understanding of equivocal                        Economic factors and technological infrastructure:
situations. Of course, creating a high level of syn-             For individuals on a limited budget (such as college
chronicity in communication through back-and-                    students), use patterns were highly influenced by
forth messaging could enable two individuals to                  economic considerations. Even though the advan-
reach some convergence [1].                                      tages of being mobile were apparent and desirable,
   Modalities of Mobility. Perhaps the most touted               for many, the convenience was not worth the addi-
advantage of wireless technology is its ability to               tional expense. Further, the pricing plans of various
enable mobile communication, mobile collabora-                   service providers were found to encourage and dis-
tion, and mobile commerce. While descriptions of                 courage different types of behavior. For example, the
innovative applications of mobile technology and                 relative popularity of text messaging in Norway
visions of future scenarios abound in the literature,            compared to Thailand was attributed to the relative
the meaning of mobility, the types of mobility, and              costs associated with this form of communication in
the implications of different types of mobility on               the two countries. The level of proliferation of
wireless device use remain unclear. Traveling, wan-              mobile devices was also related to the existing qual-
dering, and visiting were seen as three ways to qual-            ity and availability of traditional telecommunica-
ify the essence of mobility [4]. Traveling is defined            tions infrastructure, and to the accessibility of public
as “the process of going from one place to another in            telecommunications facilities.
a vehicle” [4]. For example, a five-hour drive from                 Social factors: The expectation of continuous
one city to another could belong to this category of             availability and responsiveness associated with
mobility. Wandering, on the other hand, refers to a              mobile device use appears to have a natural fit with
form of “extensive local mobility” where an individ-             cultures such as the U.S. that are fast-paced and rely
ual may spend considerable time walking around                   on information for decision making in every aspect
[4]. Finally, visiting refers to stopping by at some             of life. Another interesting motivation for mobile
location and spending time there, before moving on               device use, in the case of a major city in Thailand,
to another location.                                             was the fact that people are often stuck in their car
   Different types and extent of mobility are associ-            due to frequent traffic jams, and social practice of
ated with different motivations underlying use pat-              engaging in “more or less meaningless conversation”
terns. For example, safety was an important concern              as a leisure activity. Another related issue is that of

38     December 2003/Vol. 46, No. 12 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM
symbolism, which refers to the meaning (beyond               Impact on Functional Effectiveness and Efficiency,
functionality) that members in the culture hold           and on Interpersonal Relationships: Being reachable
about possessing and using a mobile device. Societies     anywhere and at any time has obvious advantages,
where the penetration of mobile technology is not         such as improved coordination and the elimination
substantial may view these devices as “a young            of wasted time when waiting for input from individ-
thing,” “a rich thing,” and “a cool thing,” and con-      uals who may be traveling, visiting, or wandering.
tribute to the users’ perception of an enhanced sense     This positive orientation to mobile technology is
of self-importance.                                       reflected in the view expressed by one of our sub-
   Critical Mass: For an individual to use a wireless     jects: “mobility means efficiency.” Given that wire-
device, particularly its data features, a significant     less phones are carried around by users, they may be
number of members of the subject’s social network         able to “fill” time, implying the users can call some-
needed to be users of the same features. Further, the     one, check email, or send text messages in time slots
availability of a sufficient number of mobile Web         between other scheduled activities, while wandering
services (such as news or chat services) increased the    from one point to another on campus or while trav-
use of data features and, subsequently, the chances of    eling from home to work. Sometimes, the filling of
adoption.                                                 time is equivalent to the “killing” of time when the
                                                          individuals use the mobile devices merely to keep
The Use Process                                           themselves engaged or entertained in a free time slot
The first step in the use process is Exploration and      (or in a time slot that should have been put to more
Experimentation, which involves the following.            productive use); otherwise, mobile devices can
   Choice of appropriate medium of communication          enable “shifting” of time, for example, by checking
and the level of synchronicity: This refers to the        email and reading/sending short messages during
medium used when communicating through a wire-            time slots between scheduled activities.
less device (for example, voice, text messaging,             Having access to a mobile device also enabled
email) and the synchronicity of the medium chosen         users to take care of various business and social
(the degree of delay involved in a bidirectional infor-   obligations throughout the day, almost in real time
mation exchange).                                         as issues are confronted, rather than batching all the
   Choice of extent, mode, and exclusiveness of use:      messages and responding later upon returning to
This is related to the frequency and volume of com-       one’s workstation. Benefits notwithstanding, there
municating with a wireless device, whether the par-       are a number of potentially negative effects on pro-
ticipant primarily acts as an initiator, recipient, or    fessional and social relationships, most arising from
both, and the extent to which such a device is uti-       encroachment of personal/family time due to con-
lized as compared to tethered devices for communi-        tinuous interruption through the mobile device
cation, coordination, and Web access needs.               given the norm of constant availability, and from
   Adjustment of cognitive frame regarding technology:    unmet expectations regarding responsiveness, as an
This involves the process of reframing mobile tech-       individual switches off or ignores mobile devices
nology as new motivations, modes, and conse-              to limit the uncontrolled intrusion of others on
quences of applying the technology emerge over            personal time.
time. The adjustment of the cognitive frame also             Psychosocial outcomes: In addition to the more tan-
includes learning to improvise in order to bypass the     gible impacts of mobile technology use discussed
current limitations of mobile technology that are         previously, a number of psychosocial impacts were
being explored and experimented with. For example,        observed: a sense of safety and security during trav-
through innovation in work practices and organiza-        eling, elevated self-worth professionally or in a social
tion (socially configuring the group as a “ring net-      group, a feeling of irritation with society’s predilec-
work”), a group of subjects utilized a technology         tion for mobile technology, and a sense of physical
enabling one-to-one communication as a group col-         and cognitive attachment with the mobile device
laboration technology.                                    (users may feel “out of the loop” or “detached” with-
   The second step of the process can be labeled the      out the mobile device that they may be accustomed
Assessment of the Experience (that is, Exploration        to carrying). Interestingly, users of mobile devices
and Experimentation) with the device, which, in           experienced a simultaneous sense of freedom from
turn, recursively influences the manner in which the      being bound to their desks with a tethered device, yet,
devices are utilized. Users appeared to assess their      at the same time, a sense of captivity owing to the
experiences on at least three dimensions: functional,     compulsiveness of responding to communication ini-
psychosocial, and relational.                             tiated by others at any or every time.

                                                              COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM December 2003/Vol. 46, No. 12   39
           of mobile devices experienced a simultaneous sense
           of freedom from being bound to their desks with a
           tethered device, yet, at the same time,
           a sense of captivity.

   Changing relationships among individuals: Having                        largely ignoring the fact that without widespread
a device readily available often allowed and encour-                       acceptance of mobile devices among individual con-
aged individuals to communicate, whether using                             sumers, the promise of mobility cannot be realized.
voice or text, with others with whom communica-                            In our study, through social analysis, we have inves-
tion would not have otherwise occurred, thereby                            tigated how and why mobile handheld device adop-
establishing or reestablishing functionally useful ties.                   tion occurs. While we do not claim the findings
The availability of a communication device also tends                      presented here are exhaustive, we are hopeful the
to lead to greater frequency and volume of communi-                        holistic framework presented will be valuable in
cation with members of the immediate social net-                           advancing knowledge in the emerging area of
work, rendering the relationships “closer” [2].                            m-communication and m-commerce. c
Interactions using mobile devices can transform the
nature of interpersonal relationships in yet another                       References
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likely to hold true especially in a voluntary technol- Suprateek Sarker ( is an assistant professor
ogy adoption scenario. Different levels of adoption in the College of Business and Economics at Washington State
                                                       University, Pullman, WA.
were signaled by study participants based on the John D. Wells ( is an assistant professor in
degree of commitment of time, effort, and financial the College of Business and Economics at Washington State
resources to enable the routine use of different fea- University, Pullman, WA.
tures of the technology over time.                     Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or class-
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Conclusion                                                                 the first page. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to
The areas of m-communication and m-commerce                                lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee.
are promising, yet confusion is abundant. Much of
the existing literature dwells on the description of
technological leaps and the economic implications,                         © 2003 ACM 0002-0782/03/1200 $5.00

40       December 2003/Vol. 46, No. 12 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM

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