Mobile dollars to donuts

Last Sunday’s New York Times included this article about the addictive nature of mobile apps, and the irresistible pressure to use mobile apps and services that are ever more intrusive and require ever more personal data. Specifically, Claire Cain Miller is concerned about Google Now, a new predictive search service that apparently promises to tell you what you need to know even before you thought you needed to know it.

Miller describes the arrogance of Google engineers (“…We’re just building the dream, and clearly users will have to get comfortable with it.”), and identifies a real potential problem with apps like Now: (“They give too much information to advertisers or the government, people fear, and eliminate the unpredictability of human existence.”).

Despite these serious issues, Miller finds Google Now to be first creepy, then considerate, then a trusted part of her daily life. So where’s the problem? Despite Miller’s happiness with this new tool, she still claims to be concerned that Google engineers (and presumably others in the Valley of Silicon) are not thinking enough about the “moral and privacy implications” of apps like these, and wishes that they would “fully engage with all of (technology’s) messy human implications.”

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Good luck. Google writes addictive, intrusive apps for the same reason that Krispy Kreme makes yummy donuts; they’re doing what they know how to do best in order to make lots of money for their employees and shareholders. I don’t expect that Krispy Kreme managers are that concerned either with the “messy human implications” of freshly baked donuts

It’s up to us as consumers to deal with those human implications through our actions. If you find a new app creepy, don’t use it. If you want to manage your diet, don’t eat donuts. True, this is hard and often not pleasant, but it is the most effective way to encourage those companies to change.

For all their talk about managing the world’s information and serving the greater good, Google, like other tech (and donut) companies, are public corporations driven primarily by revenues and profits, and by consumer reaction to their products. If customers don’t buy and use Google’s stuff, Google will have to stop making that stuff, and work on other (better, one hopes) stuff to please them.

Photo by Back to the Cutting Board from flickr

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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.