Mobile Research in Hungary: Five Highlights from the Field

Bill Selman

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Danube River looking towards the Buda side of Budapest

 

In May, the Mozilla User Experience Research Team visited two Central European countries where Firefox OS will launch, Poland and Hungary. The goal of our qualitative research was to observe mobile and Internet usage in order to provide additional feature insights into future versions of Firefox OS. We learned a lot about each market, especially some unexpected findings.

I led a research team in and around Budapest, Hungary with our partner firms Experientia and Kitchen Budapest. We interviewed nine participants over a week-long period. Some participants had older smartphones, but many participants had older feature phones. In addition to our interviews, Budapest gave us many opportunities to visit many public spaces and venues to observe how Hungarians use and access technology. As expected, Mobile technology was ubiquitous and used everywhere, but as you’ll see below mobile culture has a uniquely Hungarian take.

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A participant’s feature phone

 

Hungarians are Independent
Hungary has a long history of being linguistically and culturally distinct from its neighbors. Consequently, many Hungarians we interviewed view themselves as independent thinkers and technology users. Many of the people we interviewed said they were not swayed by fashion or influence, but made their own personal decisions about products, services, and ideas that best fit their needs.

For example, one participant mentioned that she had been using hotmail for many years but was required to have a competitor’s email address in order to use specific services. She refused to switch to the alternate service because she didn’t want to inconvenience her friends by asking them to send email to her new address. Further, she felt coerced into using this new service and not signing up felt like a mark of independence.

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Mobile usage on a Budapest subway

Mobile Internet is Expected in Urban Areas
All the participants we interviewed used online services (mobile and otherwise) to plan and manage their lives. For office workers and students, online services and communication are fully integrated into their daily lives. They use social services such as Facebook and Twitter as the primary means to keep up with friends and learn about concerts, parties, and other events. Many participants extensively use online collaboration services and document sharing to work together on projects for work and school. As one participant said, “Having a smartphone is a requirement” to be able to function productively in contemporary Hungary.

GPS and location-based services are less important in Hungary as most Hungarians are very familiar with the geography of their country. However, Hungarians are seasoned travelers outside of Hungary and clamor for travel and foreign language learning services on the mobile devices, especially services in Hungarian.

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Akvárium: Outdoor collection of bars and cafes

Hungarians Place a High Value on In-Person Contact
For Hungarians, close interpersonal relationships are an extremely important part of their lives. Hungarians place a huge emphasis on meeting people in person and value time spent face-to-face in public places such as bars, cafes, and restaurants. Social technology services are important ways to facilitate relationships, but they are not an end unto themselves. In fact, some Hungarians view technology as an obstacle to their interpersonal relationships. As one 19 year-old participant said, “If I’m out with my friends, we have a rule that everyone puts the phones on the table and whoever touches the phone first, pays for the next drink.”

Family Ties Are Strong
Virtually every Hungarian participant we interviewed had close relationships with their family and in some cases, nearly daily contact even if they didn’t live in the same locale. Relative to N. America, Hungary is a small country. For residents of Hungary’s urban areas, it is easy to visit family on the weekends in their hometowns (in fact many participants visited their family almost weekly) or join them on holidays at Lake Balaton, for example. Frequent visits reinforce the importance of face-to-face communication, but mobile devices also provide a way for family members to share messages and photos with one another when they aren’t together.

People Have Complicated Mobile Plans and Payment Schemes
Connected to close family relationships are complicated mobile plans. Some partcipants, even those in their 30s, reported sharing phone plans with family members and sometimes neighbors that were originally available via work or a government agency. Many of these plans were set up years before in order to save money through group buying. One participant described a Byzantine system of emails and phone calls sent back and forth monthly to family members and neighbors in order to settle her monthly phone bill. The plan was no longer meeting her needs but unfortunately many similar phone plans are also difficult to leave. This lack of mobility poses some challenges for users who wish to easily switch to a new plan or operator, or upgrade to a smartphone.

We’ll be sharing more updates like this in the near future, especially our observations from our recent fieldwork in Colombia, Indonesia, and Thailand.