Do the rich tweet differently?

I’m not sure what to make of this article in Atlantic Cities about the apparent correlation of iPhone use and income. In short, rich people tend to use iPhones, while poorer ones use Android devices. (Blackberry and Windows are in there somewhere, but way below the two dominant players.)

The article is based on a mapping of tweets from mobile devices, which by itself is an interesting testament to the somewhat egalitarian nature of Twitter. In any populated area there seem to be lots of tweets from all areas.The iPhone/Android split isn’t dramatic, but there does seem to be a noticeable difference in the geographic distribution of the iPhone and Android tweeters, that roughly correlates to income distribution.

For example, here is the Android (green) and iPhone (red) map of metro Detroit, which seems to show a suburban bias for the iPhone tweeters.

DetroitThe Atlantic article suggests that this correlation has to do with the high cost of iPhones, but I’m not sure that’s the whole story. Most people in the US, at any income level, buy subsidized phones. Those subsidies remove most of the price differences between iPhone and comparable Android devices. Of course, there are many more options for free (on contract) Android devices that can explain part of this seeming income divide.

I suspect, though, that there’s more going on here than richer people buying more expensive phones. I think the iPhone vs. Android split resembles the Starbucks / Dunkin Donuts divide, which gets into issues of education, class, and perceived levels of sophistication and “cool.” As I wrote earlier, we heard a hint of this at a recent Mobile Monday panel, where the head of mobile at the Smithsonian discussed how “culture consumers” who visit museums and museum web sites, are predominantly iPhone (and iPad) users.

I find this possible cultural platform divide a bit disturbing, but I’m not sure if there’s anything to be done about it. Nothing in tech lasts forever, so it’s possible that this trend won’t be relevant in a few years. I’d love to read your comments on this article and this issue, and the possible implications for app developers, enterprises, and society.


Mobile diary: Don’t try this at home

From The Register, video evidence of the surprising resilience of smartphones to being dunked or dropped. It should be comforting for iPhone users to know that “the iPhone’s screen remained intact right up to a 39-foot (11.9m) plummet.” That is, unless you really want to be one of those cool kids with a cracked screen.

These tests didn’t include any Windows phones, and I’m not taking any chances. When I bought my new Lumia 521 (after replacing the screen on my Lumia 800 twice), I bought a cover as well to protect it from those accidental drops.


Mobile Diary: PalmOS: right, but not convincing

The theme of the recent Fierce Wireless interview with former Palm head Jon Rubinstein ( via Engadget) can be summed up in the Hebrew phrase “you’re right, but not convincing.” According to Rubinstein, Palm made a mistake in selling the company to HP, but the PalmOS team turned out to be right about their vision of how the smartphone market would evolve:

“[A] lot the stuff we were trying to do with Palm and a lot of things we told carriers they were wasting effort on has turned out to be true. … Forcing us to take our address book and expose it to them. The industry went away from them. I think we were also very prophetic about the growth of the smartphone market. I think that’s clearly been validated. If you go back at look at our original premise for a lot of the stuff we did at Palm when I got there, I think it’s all really played out as expected.

I don’t know why PalmOS didn’t succeed while other platforms did, but it’s clear (and perhaps obvious) that it takes more than just good technology and an accurate vision of the market to succeed in the smartphone business. I suspect this is a common fate of consumer businesses with an engineering mindset (Nokia falls into this category as well); they underestimate the importance of emotion and other “irrational” customer behavior in determining the success of a product line.


Mobile Diary: Symbian RIP

From the Financial Times (via Gizmodo), a report on the imminent death of Symbian, Nokia’s venerable smartphone operating system, that dominated the pre-iPhone smartphone world with devices like the N95.

Looking back, the Symbian era resembles the automobile industry before the Model T: a young, exciting, industry with many manufacturers experimenting with many different technologies and configurations. Eventually the industry settled down to a “standard” model (gasoline/diesel engine, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, etc.) and development proceed with those common assumptions in mind.

I worked at Nokia through the rise (and fall) of Symbian devices, starting with the first Nokia Symbian device, the 7650, in 2002. I spent many years promoting the OS and Nokia’s S60 platform to operators and developers, and so was well aware of its strengths and weaknesses, and the enormous impact of the iOS and touchscreen revolution on the platform and the company. I have fond memories of Symbian, but don’t really lament its passing.

Here’s a peek into the Symbian era:

Mobile diary: US may soon be as advanced as Kenya

An article in GigaOM suggests that mobile payment systems may find their niche among the “underbanked” in the USA. Indeed, that seems to have been the case in Kenya, the poster child for mobile payment success. where M-PESA serves 14 million customers in 4 countries. Its success was due to a combination of factors, including a dominant, creative mobile operator and a cooperative regulatory environment.

It’s proven difficult to replicate the success of M-PESA in other countries (regulation seems to be a big factor), but who knows; perhaps we in the USA can duplicate the success of Kenya, Madagascar, and other similar advanced nations

Today’s reading: VisionMobile on the “profit share trap”

Always worthwhile to read what the VisionMobile team is writing, and their latest blog post is no exception. This time they analyze the focus in the tech media on the “profit share” held by various players in the smartphone space, notably the huge percentage of total profit held by Apple, thanks to ongoing sales on iDevices.

Sameer Singh makes what should be an obvious point, that profit, and hence “profit share” depends as much on internal corporate issues as external consumer behavior. It indicates how well a particular company may be doing now, but not necessarily how successful they will be in the future.

For example, Apple dominates the smartphone profit rankings, due to the huge margins they earn on (mostly subsidized) iPhones and (mostly un-subsidized) iPads. Singh suggests that as smartphones become more mainstream, and hence less “cool”, those high prices and margins will be hard to sustain. The feature sets of different devices will converge, and price pressures will increasingly dominate consumer decisions.

On the other hand, I suspect that Apple has more flexibility in pricing because its products, iPads in particular, are more like “Veblen goods“, or luxury products that get more attractive at higher prices. Users of Apple mobile devices also consume more data and use more apps and web services than, for example, Android users, leading to further distortion of the app ecosystem, where enterprises favor iOS development even though Android has a higher market share.

We heard one example of this in a recent Mobile Monday DC panel on HTML5 vs Native Apps. Nancy Proctor, who heads mobile activities at the Smithsonian, reported that their development priorities are web first, then iOS, because they found that the people who use museum apps and web sites tend to be “culture consumers” who favor iOS devices.

I find this a bit worrisome, as it hints at a vicious cycle of app usage by “elite” (i.e. rich, educated) consumers, that then drives more development targeted at those elite users, and excluding the wider audience on other platforms who both use less data and have fewer options.

Mobile diary: apps are big, but maybe not a business

Interesting juxtaposition of stories in today’s Mobile World Live: Apps edition from the GSMA:
apps businessEricsson reports that mobile app usage has a huge impact on the performance of their networks, at the same time as Zynga is shutting down their mobile app subsidiary OMGPOP, as part of their effort to save their business. In other words, lots of people are using lots of apps, but that activity isn’t generating much money for the people who write them.

Put that together with the latest VisionMobile report on developer revenue, and it becomes clear that mobile apps aren’t a great business in themselves. This is nothing new; the data have showed for a while that the mobile app business is like the music business. Most developers (and musicians) don’t make enough money from that activity to live on, but that doesn’t stop them from writing and distributing apps (or for musicians, playing in bars and coffee shops).