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Smartphone game use is up, especially with iPhone

Mobile games are growing more popular among smartphone users, especially iPhone users who play games twice as many hours as the average smartphone user, according to new Nielsen research.

The findings may give little cheer to corporations that are gradually (sometimes begrudgingly) allowing workers to use their own iPhones and Android smartphones for work purposes.

Nielsen’s latest blog, “Play Before Work,” noted that games are the most popular mobile app category at 64 percent, ahead of weather apps (60 percent), social networking apps (56 percent) and maps and search (51 percent). Banking and finance apps came in at 32 percent, while productivity apps were 21 percent. Games were also the top mobile app in Nielsen’s September 2010 survey of 4,000 mobile subscribers, but by a lesser amount (61 percent). Neilsen said it surveys more than 20,000 people every month online and by telephone for Spanish speakers for its various survey topics.

Nielsen also found iPhone users spend almost twice as much time playing games on the phone as the average smartphone gamer, spending 14.7 hours per month. The average smartphone user plays games on the device for 7.8 hours a month. The iPhone was ahead of Android (9.3 hours), Windows Phone 7 (4.7 hours) and feature phones and BlackBerry smartphones (4.5 hours).

In a separate finding, Nielsen also said that smartphone gamers are spending three more hours per month playing mobile games than they were a year ago. The numbers increased from 6.4 hours to 9.4 hours, almost a 50 percent increase.

Nielsen also found that 93 percent of smartphone users would be willing to pay for a mobile game.

The growing popularity of mobile games is no surprise, and is reminiscent of games on desktop computers when they first appeared years ago, forcing corporations to adapt their policies. “Most companies didn’t allow games at first on PCs, but then allowed at least some but not generally during work hours,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “The mobile world is moving in the same direction … smartphones are the PCs of five to seven years ago.”

Analysts said that as workers bring personal smartphones to the office with better games, sharper displays and faster networks (to allow multiplayer games), corporations need to be ready to adopt policies for personal smartphone use at work.

Gold said the bigger issue, however, is not the games, but the access that workers have to app stores where users “can download whatever they want, some of which is likely to be unsafe for corporation information.”

A number of software vendors and smartphone and tablet makers are starting to help corporations provide more control over app downloads, Gold noted. For example, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is offering software called Balance on its PlayBook tablets that separates personal apps (such as games) from corporate apps. Third parties, such as Enterproid, VMware and OK Labs, offer software with similar capabilities. and the “virtualized persona” market is expected to grow dramatically in coming years, Gold said.

Cisco also just announced an enterprise-class app store called AppHQ where IT managers will be able to offer their corporate users approved and tested apps, as well as internally developed apps.

“Companies probably won’t be able to prevent users from downloading apps, including games, especially if the device is bring-your-own, but they can prevent exchange of data and set up firewalling between corporate and personal apps,” Gold said. “That will help protect corporate assets and make [personal] smartphones safer for the enterprise and its users.”

Corporations and IT shops can function effectively in a world where workers use personal smartphones to play games and conduct business in ways that won’t hurt the business, noted Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. “People want to buy as consumers and live as businesspeople,” he said. “They really are separate [functions] except the enterprise doesn’t want to pay for consumer apps. Security is taken care of to some extent through [setting up] an architecture that inhibits malware.”

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