Last week my wife and I left the kids in the fine care of my in-laws and headed to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Practically every year we escape winter for a week, firmly plant ourselves into pool chairs at an all inclusive resort, and soak up the sun. And when we do, I can't help but have my head turned... by the kind of devices people are using poolside. Hey, I'm a tech geek!
To properly frame this, we’ve been doing resort vacations for the last 13 years or so. Back in 2001 it was impossible to find Wi-Fi at a hotel in most of the Caribbean destinations we visited. But even if there was Wi-Fi, you were lugging a laptop. BlackBerry had barely started shipping actual phones at that point, and they didn’t have Wi-Fi chips yet. Android and iOS didn’t exist.
Even five years ago, which puts us around the time of the iPhone 3GS debut, Wi-Fi was still rare at all-inclusive resorts. You’d be lucky to find a spotty connection in the lobby, and it would be rather expensive. But if you needed to get work done on vacation (never a good thing), the laptop had to come along on your vacation. There was no iPad yet, and Android was in its infancy.
Last week was the first time I visited a resort where, not only did they have excellent Wi-Fi coverage throughout the entire hotel property, but it was included at no extra charge. Combine this with huge market penetration of tablets and smartphones and you have the makings of a bunch of vacationers who can’t put their devices down.
IDC’s last market share study shows that 81% of devices are now running Android. That's compared to 12.9% running iOS. If you look at installed base rather than last quarter’s shipments, you’d see a smaller difference. But Android is still the obvious global leader.
The people who go to resorts in the Caribbean sea are typically from Canada, the US, the UK, and Western Europe. Because these vacations are not cheap, they also tend to be affluent. Keeping that in mind, here's what I noticed in terms of device usage trends.
Apple’s iPhone was significantly more popular than any other smartphone platform. I carried my Samsung Galaxy S4 with me, but most of the other guests had iPhones. I didn’t do a scientific poll or anything, but I’d say it was 80% iPhone, with the rest being mostly Android along with a very small number of BlackBerry. It was interesting for me to see this, because it really does suggest that iPhone much stronger market share among the wealthy compared to what the global figures suggest.
Since Apple doesn't currently compete in the budget phone space, and only offers premium handsets at premium prices, that makes sense.
When it came to tablets, again by a wide margin, the device of choice was an iPad. I saw a small number of Android tablets. I had lots of conversations about technology with other hotel guests ranging from senior citizens to younger adults. People seemed to prefer Apple’s tablets because they are so darn easy to use. I’m not saying Android is difficult to use (I figured it out in my first few hours), but it’s definitely a steeper learning curve. Pool lounge chairs offer a powerful metaphor for human behavior. We love to be lazy. iOS is easier to use, and the iPad was absolutely dominant among guests.
Over the last 3-4 years I’ve also noticed a big increase in the number of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle. These things have become so cheap and so darn convenient for vacationers that I see them at least as often as actual printed books when I’m at resorts. But last week that wasn’t the case. Yes, I did still see many Kindles. But I saw way more people reading on iPads. People were using iPads to read the New York Times, read books using the Kindle app, surf Facebook and Twitter, and of course shoot pictures and videos. Kindles? People just used them to read books. With such a great Wi-Fi connection the mix of e-readers to iPads seems to have tipped this year. It makes me wonder if there is a future for stand-alone e-readers, or if the increasing power of tablets (and continually improving screen technology) will eventually render the cheaper alternatives obsolete.
FaceTime has also become a frequently used verb - at least based on my observations. Since I was at an adults-only resort, a lot of parents would video chat with their kids. We did so every day, using Skype on my Galaxy S4. But I have to tell you … I didn’t hear one single person say to me, “We Skyped the kids” (or anything like that). We did, however, hear people say “We FaceTimed the kids” very frequently. This was a new experience for me. Skype has been so dominant. I suppose it still is dominant. But from the iPhone- and iPad-toting crowd at my hotel in Mexico last week, you’d never know it. It occurred to me that people who own Apple devices already have FaceTime and it’s already tied to their Apple ID. So they don’t need to do anything special to sign up and use it. Maybe this is pushing its use higher and higher?
Laptops? I saw very few of them. Some folks had Macbook Airs, some had those newer Windows transformer devices (half laptop, half tablet). There were definitely far more Macs than Windows laptops, but it was pretty much irrelevant in terms of the number of iPads.
I know this is not a scientific study, but to me it was very obvious that iOS is dominant when it comes to the premium market. And it’s equally obvious that tablets are completely invading the notebook world.
The pace of innovation in the last 5 years has been amazing, and very good for Apple shareholders. I can’t wait to see what the geek world is like from poolside in another 5 years.