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Family Survey Says: Mobile Tech Wants and Needs All Over the Map



This past weekend I attended a large gathering of my wife’s family set up to serve as a memorial service for her grandmother who passed away earlier this year. The family is mostly located in the Chicago environs but most of them spend their summer recreational time in the lake region of lower Wisconsin. So that is where the event was held. There were around 90 or so folks who attended ranging from infants to grandparents and great grandparents. Because my wife and I live in Virginia, we’re not as connected as the bulk of the Chicago clan, so we got to do a lot of catch up with cousins, aunts and uncles. It was a great time and a fitting memorial for the matriarch who spawned this amazing group of people.

Since many of these relatives know I do this gig with GBM, I’m always bombarded with questions about what’s the latest and greatest and what do I think of this and that gadget. This weekend was no different. The iPad was a big hit this weekend, mostly for looking at pictures, but also for gathering questions around it. Smart/Super phones (although that category name was never used) were also a hot topic of conversation.

Some of the questions asked, and some of the questions I asked,  pointed out that at least in this circle, folks are aware of iPads, smart/superphones, social networks, playing media on these devices, etc…. but only in the same way that they may be aware of a new restaurant opening in their neighborhood. It’s something to think about doing, but not a burning issue. That shouldn’t be real surprise, but behind that are a few observations that I think are telling. Of course all of this in anecdotal and in no way scientific. Much of the discussion was fueled by too much alcohol under beautiful sunny skies.

While quite a few found the iPad compelling, the desire quickly cooled off when i told them intro price was $499. Too expensive was a comment heard a lot. When I talked about what you can do with an iPad, the predominant use cases that seemed to gain traction were viewing pictures and playing games.

Quite a few are considering purchasing a smart/super phone this fall,  although as I said, no one used that category to call it that. Instead it was all brand name and the name heard the most was Droid. I asked if that was the original Droid or the Droid X, and most didn’t know there was a difference. Not a single person knew that there is any distinction between the various flavors of Google’s Android operating system and didn’t seem to care. The vast majority wanted these phones because they wanted to do email on their phones (talk about playing catchup). When I told them there are other options for this, the response was more often than not, “but the Droid just looks cool.” I guess the branding is working. No one mentioned the EVO. No one knew what 4G was.

Speaking of branding, I was one of only three iPhone users there. All the troubles Apple has encountered with its antennagate has formed a lasting impression with this group. When I asked if anyone would consider an iPhone the answer was universally no and mostly for two reasons. First, the antenna problem caused calls to drop and AT&T is just sub-par. Second, for some reason the iPhone was mentioned as being more expensive by quite a few folks. While there’s truth in all of that, the lasting impressions with this group (admittedly unscientific) is that Apple has some image problems.

Curiously, when I asked those who were considering an iPad if they were aware if other Tablets were coming out this Christmas that question was met universally with a “no.” In three cases it was followed up with, “will it do iTunes?” When asked what the most important consideration would be, price was a big winner and surprisingly, the ability to connect it to a keyboard was also a response (and question) I heard a lot.

Apps mean nothing to this crowd. Some had seen the ads but in at least two cases they thought all of those Apps that Apple likes to show off come with the iPad. When I explained how the App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace worked, the responses were pretty much “meh” except for the gamers.

So, as the headline says, reactions, impressions, and interest was pretty much all over the map. My biggest reaction is that the marketers are winning in the early going as are the boo-birds. The Droid branding has taken hold, but most of these folks who say a Droid is their next phone have no idea what it is capable of, and most don’t seem to care. They also have no idea that the Droid X is different from the original Droid. They just want what they see as a sexy new phone. The Apple hype machine has some work to overcome as the raft of negative PR seems to have taken hold and stuck. It’s ongoing relationship with AT&T isn’t helping either.

Here’s an interesting side note. The location of this event was at my in-law’s lake house. My father-in-law is one of those on the Droid kick. I asked him why. He says because US Cellular is offering them beginning next month and that’s the only carrier that reaches into this very rural area. I told him I had always had good luck with Sprint at the lake house, and that I was really surprised at how strong the AT&T signal was there this summer. He looked amazed. He said AT&T didn’t reach that area. I showed him it did. He was flabbergasted because he used to use AT&T when he lived in Chicago and had to ditch when they retired to the lake house. He said that according to everyone around the local area, AT&T just doesn’t work in that region. Intriguingly, I  had no issues in various locations around the region, including out on the middle of the lake. My takeaway from that is AT&T, and I’m assuming carriers, have some work to do when it comes to getting the word out.



  1. aftermath

    08/23/2010 at 9:14 am

    This was a fantastic and very intriguing post. I think that you’re selling yourself short when you humbly position what you wrote as “anecdotal and in no way scientific”. As individuals and enthusiasts, what we say and think is usually little more than anecdote. In contrast, you’ve offered valuable observation and insight into what real people who comprise the marketplace think and feel, and you experienced this in the context of life rather than comments on a website, tech news coverage, or in a mall. Thanks.

  2. Xavier Lanier

    08/23/2010 at 11:21 am

    Great article Warner! It’s always interesting to see how those without a resident geek in their midst perceive mobile technology. Our immediate family members aren’t ‘normal consumers’ since we bring so much technology home and talk/blog about it all the time.

    AT&T/Apple definitely have to crank up their PR machines. Here in Silicon Valley/San Francisco there’s still a strong anti-AT&T sentiment despite HUGE improvements in the network over the past few months.

    My father, a new iPhone user, recently told me he thinks that everyone complaining about AT&T are a bunch of whiners. He hasn’t experienced any dropped calls or network congestion since his purchase coincided with AT&T lighting up mini cell sites throughout San Francisco.

    I think the media/online pundits are partially to blame. After years of complaining about AT&T’s lousy performance, writers (myself included) haven’t made much of a fuss about AT&T finally getting their act together, at least in some markets.

    It’s also interesting to hear about regional differences. In my neck of the woods a lot of consumers are indeed carrying Android devices, but the iPhone 4 dominates conversations.

    • ChrisRS

      08/23/2010 at 12:55 pm

      The internet has is a lot of negative information about AT&T service. Some of it may be out of date. Unless you are a fairly sophisticated internet users it is easy to pull up old, out of date information. Many web sites and blogs do not do a good job of making the posting date easy to see.

      • Xavier Lanier

        08/23/2010 at 2:00 pm

        I agree- that’s part of it. Another big part of it is that “AT&T Connects Calls, Makes iPhone Customers Happy” doesn’t make a good headline. “AT&T Drops Calls, Frustrates iPhone Customers” does.

  3. GTaylor

    08/24/2010 at 7:09 am

    Your experience, Warner, exactly reflects the tech conversations I have had and observations made since cell phones and portable computers became common.

    Even among the informed and experienced users, impulse and attitude hold sway in people’s minds as can be seen in web discussions at other sites. (The prevailing attitude at GBM is a much welcomed “think before you reply and think twice about what the other person said first.” That’s how I take it anyway.)

    Tech education has been the fiefdom of marketing departments and the parent companies and primary officers should take moral responsibility for that.

    They have made mountains of cash and hazardous tech waste while sending people into debt and increasing the general level of ignorance. About half of the 30’s generation think that I am a tech guy because I use a tablet, can send pictures from phone to computer with out a data plan, and can get music onto an mp3 player with out iTunes .

    All of this, as your example shows, has taken place while not meeting the basic information management and communication needs of a large part of the potential customer base. I wonder, if someone were to market honestly to these needs that there is enough consumer loyalty left to make it work financially.

    By the way, an old Lotus phone from Sprint gets email great, but not attachments so well, and doesn’t need a data plan.

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