During the Chinese New Year holidays, many writers have dwelled on the theme of returning to their hometown and compare the sights there with that of Beijing. The tech scene is no different; one of the more popular and most ridiculed topics was about tech insiders’ experiences at their hometown. One of the more readable articles in this genre was about the writer’s experience at a so-called fifth tier city.

The article pointed out several intereting trends. For residents of this fifth tier city, almost everyone choose an Android because it is much cheaper than an iPhone. For everyday use, the smartphone functions first and foremost as a game console and video and music player. Of course, people also uses their phones to communicate with each other and to surf the internet, but these uses are mostly secondary. For them, a smart phone is primarily used for entertainment and to kill time, one fragment at a time.

This article fascinated me because I also went back home to during the holiday season. Inspired by the article, I also noted several trends in how my friends use their smart phones as well as the similarities and differences bewteen residents in a fifth tier Chinese city and that of an West Coast suburb.

The biggest difference I noticed was that none of my friends rely on their smart phones and tablets very much. They use it to ocassionally to search for movie showtimes and other information, but they still use a computer most of the time. In fact, while they have all abandoned TV for entertainment (except for sports), none of them have moved on to smartphones and tablets. It’s as if time stood still: they are still using their laptop for everything.

For them, a cell phone is just a cell phone: they use it to call and text other people. Ironically, their totally functional view of their smartphones mean they are all Android users just like their counterpart in China. However, their motivation is not based in finance (until you’ve lived in China, you cannot appreciate how cheap goods in America really are); rather, they see no point in purchasing new phones, as they do not need any of the new functions. That’s also the reason why Apple and Samsung has not made any in roads with them: they are all still using their beat up HTCs.

Tablets fare even worse. Only one of the five friends I surveyed owned a tablet, the rest cannot comprehend what tablet is for. The only friend that bought a tablet chose a Sony tablet on sale, and is extremely satisfied with Android 4.0, as it is enough for ocassional web surfing, reading, and video view.

From what I can see, Americans have do so many others things for recreational purposes that smartphones and tablets are only a tiny part of their repertoire. This means that once the phones and the tablets hit a certain mark and fulfill a certain need, they feel no need to upgrade. They rather spend their money on bigger cars or better houses.

This, of course, is exact that manufacturers fear. For residents of small cities in both China and America, smart phones and tablets are rapidly becoming commodities. For cities like Beijing, the traffic and the public transportation means some consumers will always demand the newest model, but is that demand enough to drive profit margins?

Yang is currently the brand and media director at Elitime Media & Consulting. He has published and translated seven books, and several of his works have been translated and published in areas such...

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