Tech Observations From the Field

on June 17, 2014

Over the past few days, I have been taking notes on my observations of tech, primarily mobile usage, of “regular humans” in the wild. And by that, I mean at Disney World where my family and I are vacationing.

I have been compiling notes here and there as well as spending time in lines talking to consumers, getting their feedback on a range of tech related questions. A wise man once said, “A line was a market research opportunity” and I often capitalize on that time to get in the heads of consumers. I also like to observe large groups and how they actually use technology while mobile. I have always found Disney theme parks, and in this case Disney World, a great place to make important observations on the mobile consumer.

I have been (rightly) banned from much of my smartphone use by my wife and kids but as time has permitted (while my girls wait in line to meet princesses), I have formed some thoughts.

Main Observations

An observational habit I have when in large crowds is to observe what types of smartphones people are using. What I observed over the past week lined up with much of my data. The smartphone installed base is largely dominated by Apple and Samsung. I saw more iPhones and Galaxies than anything else. I could literally count on both hands how many Windows Phones and BlackBerry devices I saw in use. Which again fits my installed base estimates for the US market.

When it came to the types of Galaxy and iPhone, things got a little more interesting. What stood out in ways I did not anticipate was how many iPhone 4/4S devices I saw in use. I have known for some time those devices got handed down to family members but estimating the exact numbers of these hand me down devices is near impossible.

This observation may indicate a larger than estimated number of legacy iPhones currently in use. The data I have been using for US iPhone installed base is based on sales data of the past 26 months. What this observation leads me to believe is the US installed base of iPhones is higher than I’m estimating.

A key question that comes from this observation is how big of a refresh we may able to anticipate with the upcoming iPhone 6. However, it is not reasonable to assume all those legacy hand-me-down iPhones will be upgraded with the latest model but that current generation iPhone 5 and 5s devices will also be handed down.

In terms of the large percentage of Galaxies I saw in use, they were largely S4 and S5 devices. I saw a very small number of Note devices being used. This lines up with my small number of estimated percentage of Notes as a part of the US installed base.

Another observation was how many people I saw using FaceTime to talk to friends and family who were not present. I saw this activity repeatedly. I even had a teen tell me she “FaceTimed” her friend while on Splash Mountain to share the experience of her first time on the ride.

Wearables were everywhere just not the type you think. I saw only a few smart watch and hearth and fitness wearables. I bet if if I was in Disneyland in LA I would have seen more. The point remains only a small fraction of US consumers use health and fitness wearables or a smart watch. However, nearly everyone was wearing the Disney Magic Bands which is a wearable band with an RFID tag tied to your identity while at the park. You can unlock your room door, pay for everything, get all your ride pictures tied to your account and more. The convenience of such an experience is what makes the wearable valuable. Perhaps we can tie this to a certain value of payments, identity, health and more that the wide spread adoption of such wearables is possible if the recipe is right.

Interviews

When I get opportunities to talk to consumers, I like to understand how they make decisions about what tech products to buy. Overwhelmingly, they said discussing with friends and family was the primary input they received that led them to their purchase. Typically, they started with online research to get an idea of what they were leaning towards and then looked for feedback from friends and family. When I asked about product reviews from tech blogs, they shared these had little to no bearing on their decision process. Frequently, the point was made they want to know what people like them think of the products they are interested in not some “techie.” This was not surprising but I always enjoy hearing it.

What this emphasizes is the tech decision buying process is just that — a process. From online, to retail look and feel, to friends and family based reviews being the most influential parts of that process. This may not surprise many but it’s a good validation of what we already knew.

I talked to five Windows Phone users and asked them if they planned to buy another one when they upgraded. Two said they would consider it and three said no — they are getting an iPhone.

While somewhat unscientific I have been doing this annually when we trek to the happiest place on earth. I find it a valuable part of observational research that is yet to fail me. I asked a number of additional questions to the 50+ people I talked to but will save those details for a later post.