An Observation On Travel

by Michael in

Technology journalists and other people like myself who keep up with the latest and greatest of technology products and sales numbers often forget that no matter what the sales or quality of products may be, the products are irrelevant unless people actually use them. Some gadgets, of course, lend themselves to being left at home while others lend themselves to portability. Some people never take their expensive gadgets out with them into public where they might be risking theft. Our own individual anecdotal experiences are not scientific, but they can be interesting to observe and think about in terms of seeing when particular gadgets become watershed "normal" things for people to carry around.

I was thinking about how often I do or do not actually see the various tech gadgets in the wild last week and realized that my then-upcoming (now past) weekend trip up to Chicago would give me the perfect opportunity to do some gadget watching. I would be taking four flights over the course of the weekend so I set out to keep a careful tally of what devices I observed other airline patrons using in the course of their travels. Here's my count:

  • e-ink Kindle: 3
  • e-ink Nook: 1
  • Nook Tablet/Color: 1 (I couldn't tell which it was)
  • iPad (any gen): 9
  • Nintendo DS/DS Lite/DSi/DSi XL: 4
  • Nintendo 3DS: 2
  • Paper Books: 5
  • Paper Magazines: 4
  • Newspaper: 2
  • Mac Laptop: 3
  • Non-Mac Laptop: 2

It's interesting how many iPads I saw out and about. They really are being used quite a bit. What's also interesting is the list of things I definitely did not see despite looking for them rather intently. I saw no Kindle Fires, no PSPs, no PlayStation Vitas, no Samsung Galaxy Tabs or equivalent 7-inch or 10-inch Android tablets. The only non-iPad tablet I saw was a solitary Nook Color/Tablet (which is, technically, built on an Android base). I did not attempt to tally smart phones so it would be unproductive to guess what the proportions were. Any guess made now would be subject to my biases of things which stood out due to by prior expectations. I can at least tell you that without even trying I noticed a few Android phones, iPhones, and Blackberry phones, but again--I wasn't looking closely and definitely wasn't counting. There were countless people using phones which I never bothered to glance at.

It is important to note this is not scientific. It is merely the results of my careful observation over the course of 4 flights and their corresponding airport wait periods. The sample population I was observing is extraordinarily small. Further, it is guaranteed that many of my fellow travelers had gadgets which would have been counted but remained stowed in bags for the short time during which I could have observed their use. My Nintendo 3DS's acquisition of various other owners' Miis via StreetPass (which happens when your sleeping 3DS system gets into close proximity of another sleeping 3DS) drastically outstripped the 3DSes I observed, having come into contact with at least 8 other systems during my stops in airports alone.

Speaking of which, for those interested my personal assortment of airplane travel gadgets is as follows:

  • iPhone 4S (white, 64GB, AT&T, unlimited data)
  • iPad (First gen, 64GB, AT&T 3G, unlimited data)
  • Nintendo 3DS (black)
  • Nook Simple Touch

I'm sure it's atypical for one person to be hauling so many gadgets on a flight and making use of all of them on 3 of the 4 flights. Still, the weekend project of observing my fellow travelers was a fun one I intend to repeat at my next opportunity. If you're going to do the same, remember not to trust your memories of your observations. I'm sure I only noticed several of these gadgets (and especially the books and magazines, which I normally think nothing of) because I set out with the intent of noting everything other than phones that travelers were using to entertain themselves.