The use of social networking and business applications is fuelling a surge in the numbers of small businesses turning to converged devices such as iPhones and BlackBerry smartphones, according to research conducted by O2.

Recent sales figures from O2 have revealed that 7 out of 10 small businesses are now opting for a smartphone when replacing or upgrading their existing handsets. In the recent London tube strike, O2 reported a surge of 10% in data traffic in the Greater London area, as customers took advantage of remotely accessing data, even when they were not able to make it into the office.

The shift to converged devices represents an increase of nearly 100 per cent in the last 12 months, with many small businesses now combining their personal and business handsets into one. This has not only reduced costs and increased efficiencies but also enables employees to network on the go.

Feedback from small business customers has revealed the ability to access social networking sites through applications such as TwitterBerry is a key factor behind the increasing popularity of smartphones. Nearly half (48 per cent) revealed they access sites up to four times a day, with promoting their business and recruiting new staff among the most popular reasons for use. Over a quarter (28 per cent) revealed that the ability to keep in touch with other small businesses in real time had boosted business confidence

Newly developed business specific applications on the iPhone were also cited as adding to the appeal of the device as a business as well as personal tool. New applications such as LogMeIn were identified as popular applications for increasing efficiencies, providing users with the ability to remotely view their computer desktop over the 3G network or Wi-Fi connection, meaning the user can access files even if out the office.

Despite small businesses cost-cutting across many areas of their business, nearly half (49 per cent) of small business are continuing their level of investment in technology, in an attempt to benefit in the long term. Converged devices were identified as the most popular technology products that businesses were investing in, largely driven by the increase in staff efficiency and the need to cut costs by reducing fixed office space.

One in ten customers revealed they had actually increased the amount they had spent on these devices since the onset of the recession.

Simon Devonshire, Head of Small Business Marketing, O2 commented: “We’ve seen a real shift in attitude amongst small businesses around the criteria they are looking for from their mobile devices, specifically in the blurring of lines between a handset for business and a separate one for personal use. More small businesses are opting for one combined converged device which offers them not only great functionality but also flexibility and access to both their business and personal lives. The use of social networking as a means of keeping and growing business is also a trend that we predict will continue to grow. By enabling their staff to be able to work even when they are out of the office, business owners are reaping the benefits of a more productive and in-touch workforce.’

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