Friday, July 20, 2012

Commuters and their devices

I have been working from San Francisco for a few weeks. No, I am not moving, but I'll be here a lot. Anyway, so far I've been staying some distance from the office, so ride BART to work every morning. It's a cultural experience, as I don't normally ride transit.

Lately, I've embraced the whole concept of mobiles (handsets, eReaders and tablets) being simply "not desktop" and their context very often being on-the-couch. But the traditional mobile example of on-the-train (or bus) is still there, and is very interesting. I think it says a lot about the use and utility of some devices.

So, while not as robust as my previous survey of observed devices, without charts, here are some notes I've made from my observations:

  • The most prominent activity is: Nothing. Over half the riders, even in the morning, do nothing. No one even looks out the window. Weird, to me. 
  • I am not counting earbuds and headsets where there is no interaction. Many people doing "nothing" or doing other activities described below are also listening to music, or something. 
  • Of those who do something, 1/3rd to 1/2 of those are mostly involved in non-powered activities. Reading books, magazines or dealing with (work? school?) paperwork. 
  • A lot more people than I'd expect have non-phone devices, by which I mean they listen to music on an iPod, even while clicking away on a smartphone. Remember, this is based on me seeing them, due to interaction with the device. I have no idea what is in people's pockets. And lots of cords disappear into pockets. I mean I /see/ several iPods on almost every trip. 
  • eReaders (100% ePaper Kindles) are used by at least 5% of engaged users. They are used nearly as much as handsets, by which I mean while standing, on escalators, and even while walking. 
  • Tablets are used by fewer folks than eReaders, but apparently as replacements for readers, with little clicking, and just reading or something (video?) for the whole trip. 7" tabs are used quite a bit more than 10" devices (all of which are iPads). Most of the 7" devices are unidentifiable as they are rectangles, mostly in cases. I am seeing Nexus 7s already though. 
  • Lots of people OWN an iPad, which I can see in their bag, pulled out for a moment, or used on the platform. But they are almost always put away as they board. The one-handed use of 7" devices seems to make them win for actually being used on the train. The incredibly rare iPad use on a moving train is always on a lap. Once, today, I saw someone standing with one the whole time (reading a book) with a quite convoluted cradling of both hands, so she could hold on as well.
  • On that note, I have never seen any device dropped, or left behind. Even a precarious-looking tablet.  
  • Android outweighs iOS for handsets. Mostly quite large Android devices, like the current crop of Galaxy devices and their direct, giant-screen competitors from HTC, etc. 
  • Fairly few Blackberry devices, maybe 5% of handsets seen. Mostly QWERTY devices. 
  • Foreign tourists (I get on near an airport) use Symbian Nokia phones almost exclusively. There are a lot of tourists at some times of day, so I get a good survey of these. 
  • The are a few featurephones, more than Windows Phone or any other OS. Which actually I just never see, unless it's in my hands. Featurephones are invariably used by youth, and far too many of them are not even new phones (good condition, 8-10 year old flips, for example). I almost wonder if they are part of a retro movement that goes with their skater ethic. It's weird. 
Methodology notes: I am using the morning commute as my baseline, as this is the time the most people actually do something. 

I am recording observations as they happen. Observations are direct only. I don't ask people, I don't know what is in people's pockets. But I am nosy, and look too close to people's screens. I see weird stuff, like people who spend the whole trip looking at the settings screen, apparently seeing what WiFi is available. But most are on Facebook, reading email, reading a book, etc. 

I have no photos, but man I wish I could get some. I think people would freak out and beat me to death if I started snapping photos of them on the train, though. Is there a good surreptitious way to do this?

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