People Watching and Smartphones

16518093573_6d0b56163b_hI love this time of year, a few months after Apple’s new phone release. I particularly enjoy the prime release years when the Apple handsets are different enough that you can tell at a glance if a passerby has an old or new iPhone. But even on the S years, you can learn a lot if you people watch.

I live in the greater DC area, which is one of the most affluent areas in the United States and compares favorably with affluent regions in the rest of the world. What do I see when I watch people?

I see devices. Several years ago, I started looking for devices when in public. Around this time of year, I pay special attention to smartphones. Analysts love data,and they love to look at data to support their respective views that Android or Apple are one top. But I think people tell the real story. Apple has made it clear from the beginning that they are not targeting the low end of the smartphone market. So what phones do the residents of the Greater DC area use?

I was recently browsing at Tyson’s Corner, one of the upscale malls in the region. While my husband glanced at store windows, I was watching for phones.

Apple makes it easy. Their phones stand out, especially the 6 and 6+ series. Last year, when the 6 series was released, I was surprised to see how many people replaced their 5s and how quickly. What surprised me even more was how many 6+ phones I saw during my travels. I had been convinced the 6+ would flop. (Ironic now since it’s probably going to be my next phone.)

During my recent trip to Tyson’s Corner, I saw only iPhones, and the vast majority of them were in the 6 series. That’s right. I saw so few Android phones, of any brand or variety, that they didn’t even hit my radar screen. I’m sure some people had them. But not enough to notice.

Before you say that clearly I’m an iPhone user and so have a visual bias, let me note that I currently own an Android phone, an HTC One M8, which, yes, I’ll be replacing next year with an iPhone, but right now, I’m an Android user and so should have a visual bias for Androids. Trust me, when I see an HTC in the wild, I take notice. Sadly, it doesn’t happen very often.

It’s obvious from walking that particular mall that the iPhone has won that segment of the DC-based population. Since I started noticing phones (around the time of the iPhone 4), my observations in that particular mall have not changed.

I was also on the Metro recently and paid attention to phones. Metro attracts a wider segment of the population than Tyson’s Corner Mall, and I wasn’t surprised to see more Android phones on the Metro. Still, I have to say that iPhones still won in terms of sheer numbers seen. One thing I noticed was more older iPhones on the Metro. Apparently Metro riders don’t feel compelled to upgrade as often.

There is one place where I see a lot of Android phones, though still not in the numbers I see of Android: Starbucks. I do see a fair number of Android phones there, usually Samsungs. Perhaps Android users take their phones out of their pockets less often than Apple users, so I tend to see them when their users are seated and browsing on them? (Side note. I am truly appalled at how much time people spend on Facebook.)

What conclusions do I draw from my admittedly unscientific study? Apple’s targeting strategy is still working. Their one attempt to penetrate the lower-end phone market with the 5C failed, and they do best when they stick to the market they originally targeted with the iPhone: the mid-to-upper end smartphone market. While I’m sure the typical Tyson’s shopper is more than willing to waste money, they also find enough value in the iPhone to upgrade to the next one, year after year.

So what about where you live? Do you see more Androids or Apples?

image by Aimee Custis


  1. FSkornia23 October, 2015

    I work in a public library, and my job focus is on digital, so I get called upon a lot to help people on the computers and on their devices. The city I work in is also very economically diverse – I agree that the more affluent patrons lean toward Apple devices, with smatterings of easily recognizable Samsungs. Among most of the less affluent groups, it’s all Android, and there is no specific allegiances to brand, screen size, Android version, etc.

    When it comes to tablets, there are lots of iPads (especially the Minis surprisingly), with flashes of B&N/Samsung Nook tablets. Amazon rules the roost with the dedicated eReaders though. It’s Kindle all the time everyday there.

  2. Frank23 October, 2015

    It depends on location and its economy, but since DC folks make the big bucks they mostly use iPhones. Now BlackBerry is being phased out in favor of iPhone for the US government, more people will be using iPhones.
    I personally have been using Androids because I more control to block of ads and trackers, but now with iOS 9 iPhones can mostly do that as well.

    1. Nate Hoffelder23 October, 2015

      Not really. I live down in prince William County, where I see Android as much as iPhones.

      But you’re right in that money is a factor; I noticed quite a few years ago that I could judge a college’s cost and the student’s income levels based on their computers.

  3. Jeffery Land23 October, 2015

    Interesting to see how areas break down. When I lived in Phoenix several years ago I saw it start out with mostly iPhones but then seemed to migrate to about half-and-half iPhone and Android with a die hard BlackBerry user here and there and a few low end Windows Phones. After moving up to Bellevue, WA I was rather surprised to see how prevalent Windows phones are up here. Sure it is right next to Microsoft headquarters but I didn’t expect that to have too much of an influence. The Apple Store at the mall is always packed yet venturing out into the wild usually shows mostly Windows Phones, some iPhones and a few BlackBerry and Androids here and there. I was rather surprised by the number of Z series BlackBerry handsets I saw. The Androids were mostly Samsung with a lone HTC here and there.

  4. Greg Strandberg24 October, 2015

    I use a Verizon flip-phone that cost me $15.

    I’m just not caught-up in the popularity contest that’s going on out there.

    1. Nate Hoffelder24 October, 2015

      I used to have a flip-phone, but I had to get rid of it one year otherwise I was going to be kicked out of CES.


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