Device notes

Subjective high-level patterns, along with random low-level detail, about ways I saw people using various devices in Hong Kong and Yunnan last month.

Omnipresent devices: mobile phones, cameras, bigscreen TVs, cars and lesser vehicles. Before 1978 the great goals were a bicycle, a radio and a wristwatch. The children six years old today will have much greater expectations than ours… their change will accelerate even more rapidly than ours. Mobile phones will be as exciting to them as electric lights are to us.

Television: Still the big device… phones have the greater growth, but more people are affected by video experiences.

At least in mainland China, though, this still seems a constrained experience. Hotels in Yunnan offered dozens of channels, but (at least in the places I stayed this trip) were all national or regional networks. I’ve seen CNN and other global channels in Beijing and Shanghai. This trip, all CCTV, Yunnan TV, Hunan TV, etc. Much of the content seemed formulaic to me… historical dramas, soap operas, news, sports. But such content was prevalent in street stall disc sales, too.

Big wildcard here may be disc sales and Internet video. I’ve no idea of the distribution channels or content types here. This could be an important sector… many of the “Internet Bars” are used to watch video on demand, and there were many pocket televisions on sale. The overall video scene is growing beyond the broadcast channel.

Hong Kong hotel TV seemed quite a bit more open, with more foreign stations, a bit more risque late-night content (although still tame). On the other hand, street stalls along Temple Street offered a lot more adult discs than what I’d seen before.

Department stores this year uniformly carried flatscreen displays. Even three years ago it was 50/50 flatscreen and cathode-ray screens. This year the only CRTs I saw were in used-good markets.

One oddity: few gigantic environmental displays. In Beijing and Shanghai you’ll readily see multi-story external displays in certain districts. Even Chongqing in central China boasts impressive outdoor displays. I did see one four-story tall video screen in Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei district, but that’s all. Still haven’t seen any giant displays with handheld interactivity.

I did see one set of touchscreens in use, in Lijiang’s main square, Sifangjie. But these weren’t always working, and when they did, the level of interactivity seemed like a Macromedia Director kiosk circa 1999.

Striking sight: Back alley in Jinghong, gated windows with clothes drying, big 72″ flatscreen showing behind. Across the alley, in the opposite gated window, a large rooster surveying his domain.

Phones: Everywhere. But these are still simple mobile phones, used mostly for voice.

China Mobile and Unicom had the biggest number of storefronts… a staggering number of storefronts, more than seemed financially plausible. They held many models, but all seemed to be similar types of featurephones, similar size of displays. Nokia shops came next, then a few Samsung.

Saw phones among all age groups. Don’t recall seeing anyone in tribal attire with a phone.

About 70% were held to the ear, about 30% held to the eyes… more texting than I’ve seen on previous trips. Looking at screens seemed disproportionately strong among under-30 females. Yelling into phones was still more common among over-40 males.

Saw a few iPhones in use in Hong Kong… some seemed authentic, some seemed inauthentic, but mostly it was hard to tell. Saw a few people using Android interfaces on their larger phones in Hong Kong too. But these were dwarfed by featurephone use.

In Yunnan many convenience stores offered landline services. Hadn’t seen that for awhile, where you go down to the local store to make a call. Feels like a transition between communal phones and personal phones.

Tablets: Striking for their scarcity. Most of what seemed to be tablets in Hong Kong stores were actually pocket televisions, in 5″ and 7″ sizes. Signage for Samsung Galaxy Tab was noticeable in Shenzhen, and many shops in Shenzhen and Hong Kong did offer tablets for sale. Only tablets I saw for sale in Yunnan were some iPads of dubious authenticity in a university shop in Kunming.

Believe I saw a small Android tablet in Kunming… just caught a glimpse of the UI, couldn’t get a make, suspect it would have been older Android. Never saw the word “Google” anywhere (nor Baidu, for that matter). People were using digital technology, but it didn’t have the same type of branding emphasis I see in San Francisco.

Computers: These aren’t the most common consumer electronics goods. Shops usually cluster together, and do offer a good selection. Most usage seem to occur indoors.

Most of the computer screens I saw in use were part of retail operations, for cash registers. In Yunnan, a large portion of the computers I saw used were in CAD storefronts, usually connected to a plotter for printing building plans… striking. Did see a few young-professional appearing folks actually working with laptops in public.

Netbooks surprised me by their popularity… maybe 30% of the total portable-computer offerings, particularly in the larger department stores.

The Internet Bars I saw usually had a Windows 7 homescreen on their displays, although many homescreens seemed to be set to particular games.

Striking sight, in Kunming: Streetside news/juice kiosks, with the proprietor using a webcam for live video communication with another vendor elsewhere… saw this a few times. Drove home how technology adoption is driven by local social networks.

Cameras: This was the sleeper item for me… didn’t expect it to be so big, probably because I saw more domestic tourists than ever before. Many had way-big cameras, zoom lenses, multiple cameras, tripods. A personal status symbol, similar to how big your automobile is?

Also saw recurring TV infomercials comparing the results of different models, how much better a photo can look with a bigger investment.

A common small business near ethnic tourist spots: photo stations, with tribal costumes, digital cameras, a computer for light editing & selection (more Microsoft Photo than Photoshop), and a printer, perhaps some digital transfer to a personal device. Some of these stations were used to play Microsoft Solitaire.

Biggest impressions: Ready adoption of technology, as it becomes available. Tablets have not yet gained popular awareness. Phones have not yet matured. Faster adoption in urban east than rural west. And people really respond to cameras….