Some of the most surprising results from the 2012 Tech Survey came from a deeper dive into smartphone use patterns of our readers. Because some readers own one phone for business and one for personal use, we asked specifically about use of phones for business purposes.

Overall, 13% of readers told us they still use a BlackBerry. Independent RIAs are right on the average here, with independent affiliates and CPAs who also do planning falling noticeably below average. On the other hand, bank-affiliated advisors and employees of broker-dealers are at least twice as likely as the average advisor to own a BlackBerry. Insurance reps also indicated above-average BlackBerry usage. We've long suspected that these groups would be the last to give up their BlackBerrys, because many larger enterprises dictate the device that employees must use. It also confirms our suspicion that BlackBerry's share will fall further when these corporate contracts expire and the enterprises consider alternatives.

The big winner in this category, of course, is the iPhone. It does best among independent RIAs, with dually registered advisors and CPAs who do some planning tied for the second-strongest segments. Again, this makes sense - after all, these groups are the least constrained in their technology decisions. With the exception of the advisors at major companies mentioned above, Android seems to have a consistent market share of approximately 30% across the remaining users. And, as predicted, the Palm has virtually disappeared.

Perhaps the most surprising fact was that 20% of advisors say they still do not use a smartphone for business at all.

Advisors' attitudes about smartphone ROI were fascinating. Overall, 38% of advisors felt that their smartphones provided above-average ROI, but the range of responses was significant. At the high end, 44% of independent RIAs reported above-average ROI. That makes sense, because they were free to choose the devices they wanted, and they primarily chose iPhones and Android phones.

The shocker came from the CPA group, which registered only a 19% above-average ROI rating, the lowest of any group. Since they also were free to choose, and since they also chose primarily iPhones and Android phones, why the discrepancy? We have two theories: One is that the CPAs are simply tougher critics; they demand more from their purchases. The other (and perhaps more likely) explanation is that CPAs are not making full use of their phones' capabilities.

The big question mark for 2013 is the Windows 8 phone. Currently, Windows phones have only a 2% share overall, but our survey closed just prior to the release of Windows 8 phones. We think Windows 8 could change the fortunes of Windows phones in the advisor space for three reasons.

  • We expect Windows phones to offer security that meets the demands of enterprises, which could mean that they become a viable alternative to BlackBerry devices.
  • The early prototypes we have seen are very well designed from both a hardware and software point of view.
  • Perhaps most important: Windows 8 phones fit nicely into the new Windows 8 ecosystem. Since the vast majority of advisors spend their time on Windows PCs and in Windows apps, the ability to seamlessly move from PC to tablet to phone may appeal to advisors.

We'll have to wait and see how this scenario plays out, but the potential is certainly there for a Windows phone to finally win over financial advisors.

What about tablets? Half of all advisors now own a tablet - and of those, 81% own an iPad, 15% own an Android and 7% own a Windows tablet. The iPad was strongest among independent RIAs and weakest among insurance agent advisors. Android tablets were strongest among dually registered advisors and lowest among bank-affiliated advisors. Only 8% of advisors said they plan to buy a Windows 8 tablet over the next 12 months but, as of the survey's close, advisors had not yet seen a Windows 8 tablet, so those numbers might rise.

CPA advisors are twice as likely as the average advisor to purchase a Windows 8 tablet soon. We think that's because CPAs spend so much time in MS Excel, and Windows 8 tablets work natively with MS Excel.

Advisors gave tablets lower ROI scores across the board when compared with their phones. There could be a number of reasons for this. One is cost: In the case of smartphones, you're buying a phone anyway and, with a contract, the incremental cost of the premium phone may be perceived as acceptable. In the case of a tablet, you are not only buying another device, but in many cases you are buying another cellular data plan - so the investment itself is high.

We also think most advisors want to use their devices to interact with Microsoft Office apps, custodial apps or the industry-specific apps they use daily. Yet there are no Microsoft Office apps available for the iPad yet. Workarounds are available, but they are far from seamless. This may lower the ROI in the eyes of some. Industry-specific apps, meanwhile, have only been on the market for a relatively short time, and some offer only a limited set of functionality. As these apps get better, perceived ROI should rise.

As with smartphones, we will be watching closely in the months ahead to see if Windows 8 tablets can win over a larger share of the financial services market. We don't see Windows 8 overtaking the iPad any time soon, but we do believe the number of advisors owning Windows tablets could increase significantly by next year. In particular, the ability to work with native Office applications, store them to the Microsoft cloud and then access them later, from other devices, looks very appealing.

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