Could smartphones save your local business? Yes

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When I see my 4-year-old nephew pick up an iPhone, go to YouTube and watch videos of his interest — Spiderman — I see the future.

It is here.

If you missed it, here’s a brief recap. Smartphones are the future for digital natives like my nephew and the reality for you and me today.

For businesses, being able to have your store hours, Google Maps location correct and links on search engines that lead users to your business homepage for more information is not just a suggestion, it’s about survival.

Here are the facts: By age 4, 60 percent of children have used a computer. Forty-three percent have used a digital camera and 32 percent have used a smartphone.

Twenty-five percent of 4-year-olds have used an iPod and 14 percent have used a tablet.

So, consider by age 8 or 12, says Regina McCombs, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute.

By next year or so, the number of people accessing the internet through their mobile device is going to surpass the number of users who access it through a desktop computer, according to a Morgan Stanley Research.

ComScore’s research shows that as of December 2011, the number of mobile devices and tablets accessing the internet is about 8 percent of the total traffic — and quickly growing.

Here’s what’s known about mobile phones. Ninety percent of Americans in the U.S. own a cell phone, said McCombs. But if you look at the 18-34 year-old demographic, the number is 95 percent.

“We’re actually behind a lot of countries,” McCombs said.

In Spain 112 percent, 116 percent in Chile, 134 percent in Denmark and 150 percent in Hong Kong, where most people own two mobile phones.

“We are not even at one cell phone per person yet, but we are growing fast,” McCombs said.

Now here’s where your business may be losing its edge.

Ninety-five percent of smartphone users have searched for local information from weather to where to grab a bite to eat, maps, movie times, or places to shop.

With check-in services like Foursquare and Facebook rewarding customers with discounts and other offerings, smartphone use is simply becoming part of the shopping experience — 24 percent of people in the U.S. have used their smartphones to search for coupons for shopping, according to www.ourmobileplanet.com.

Mobile devices are also being used by businesses outside a brick and mortar facility to conduct transactions. I recently bought strawberry jam at a local farmers market and used my debit card to pay. The seller used Square on his smartphone to swipe my card. Imagine the uses at a garage sale or PTA fundraiser.

From music consumption (see last week’s column) to capturing photos, watching movies and even live television broadcast (I watched the Masters Golf Tournament on my iPhone) the smartphone is a Swiss Army knife of multimedia consumption and social media activity.

Just as my 4-year-old nephew has figured it out, we are just scratching the surface of its true capabilities.

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