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Market Research at Bell Labs: Picture Phone vs Mobile Phone

During its long existence Bell Labs developed many revolutionary technologies, two of them were the Picture Phone and the Mobile Phone, both had market research studies commissioned with varying levels of accuracy at predicting the actual success of the product.

Picturephone Product Photo

About the Picturephone

AT&T executives had in fact decided to use the fair as an opportunity to quietly commission a market research study. That the fairgoers who visited the Bell System pavilion might not represent a cross section of society was recognized as a shortcoming of the survey results.


Users complained about the buttons and the size of the picture unit; a few found it difficult to stay on camera. But a majority said they perceived a need for Picturephones in their business, and a near majority said they perceived a need for Picturephones in their homes.


When the AT&T market researchers asked Picturephone users whether it was important to see the person they were speaking to during a conversation, a vast majority said it was either "very important" or "important".


Apparently the market researchers never asked users their opinion whether it was important, or even pleasurable, that the person they were speaking with could see them, too.

β€”The Idea Factory. Page 230-231

Picturephone Use Case Sketch

About the Mobile Phone

A marketing study commissioned by AT&T in the fall of 1971 informed its team that "there was no market for mobile phones at any price."


Though Engel didn't perceive it at the time, he later came to believe that marketing studies could only tell you something about the demand for products that actually exist. Cellular phones were a product that people had to imagine might exist.

β€”The Idea Factory. Page 289

Similar yet Different

But anyone worrying that the cellular project might face the same disastrous fate as the Picturephone might see that it had one advantage. A Picturephone was only valuable if everyone else had a Picturephone. But cellular users didn't only talk to other cellular users. They could talk to anyone in the national or global network. The only difference was that they could move.

β€”The Idea Factory. Page 289


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