A Tale of Two Smartphones: A few observations from our April Day in the Life

April 24, 2014

Other members of the team have already written about the details of our first Day in the Life, so I’m not going to cover it here, but I did want to share an interesting set of conversations from our debrief with participants at the end of the day.

It turned out that both the technologists and the students were surprised by how the other used their phones! Our technologists were amazed by how few people riding the bus or the dollar van had their phones out – a stark contrast to their short subway trips to work in Manhattan where every other person seemed to be juggling a phone and headphones along with their coffee or e-reader. And our students were amused by how often the technologists pulled out their phones as part of navigating the day. As one student remarked, “It seems like Google Maps is the answer for everything!”

As we chatted further, three areas of difference emerged in how the two groups thought about their phones:

·Purpose Students viewed their phones primarily as social tools – they used them to call, chat, and tweet, check Facebook, or send pictures via Instagram.  For the technologists, their phone was a digital Swiss army knife, full of tools to help them save time, money, and hassle in many aspects of their lives. Some of this difference can undoubtedly be explained by age and life stage, but it was also related to…

·Trust The students reported they were extremely hesitant to download new apps or programs unless they’d been specifically recommended by a family member or friend due to the large number of scams they’d encountered. The technologists admitted this wasn’t something they worried about day-to-day. In addition, if they downloaded an app and then didn’t like it, there was little cost to just removing it from there phones. This wasn’t as true for the students because of…

·Data While the technologists universally had unlimited data plans, the students mostly had limited plans, which were pre-paid in many cases. As a result, they were very conscious of how much data applications required and actively tried to manage their data usage. One student’s strategy was to carry two phones: an iPhone filled with apps but no plan that she uses when she’s in wi-fi zones, and then a “dumb” phone for calling and texting.  

While these experiences are very much anecdotal and certainly shouldn’t be used to suggest a trend, they do raise important questions for all of us who are thinking about how to build technology for underserved communities. We need to make sure we’re building products that match these communities’ constraints (like keeping data requirements low) and we’re thoughtful in how we launch products to signal credibility and leverage social networks.

We’ll be learning a lot more about how hard it is to do both over the course of the summer, and we hope you’ll check back to hear how it goes!

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