Smartphone market share on public transit in San Francisco

Commuters check their phones on San Francisco's municipal public transportation system. Credit:davitydave via Flickr

A week ago, CITEworld contributor Simon Bisson suggested via Twitter that tech reporters should ride public transit to get out of their bubbles and see which smartphones are actually used in the real world.

I take San Francisco's public transit system, MUNI, to work every day. So I took him up on his challenge. For one week, I counted every single phone I saw during my commute. Here's what I saw -- numbers are units counted.

Credit: Matt Rosoff

The vast majority of the iPhones I saw were iPhone 4-or-later models with the flat rounded edges rather than curved edges. I noticed a few iPhone 5s, but not many.

Of the Android phones, Samsungs were the most common brand, but by no means the only one. I saw quite a few carrier-branded phones -- Sprint and Verizon seemed to be the most common.

iPhones are so common, you almost don't realize it until you do this kind of exercise. Seeing an iPhone isn't new or interesting, so it stands out a lot less than seeing somebody on a gigantic Galaxy or a rare BlackBerry. That said, I may have overcounted slightly, as iPod Touches are not easily distinguishable from iPhones if people are using them to listen to music or play games.

These numbers matched my off-the-cuff estimates pretty closely. While Android may be taking over the world, San Francisco is still very much an iPhone city -- at least on public transit, this week, the iPhone made up about 70% of all phones I noticed.

Of the four BlackBerry users I saw, two of them pulled out iPhones while I was looking at them! So both were dual-phone users -- BlackBerry for work, iPhone for personal use. (In both cases, I saw them using the iPhones for communication, so I'm sure they weren't iPod Touches)

using a Windows Phone

I also saw about a dozen Kindles, a handful of iPads, two feature phones, one iPod Classic, and one Nintendo DS.

I was the only person I saw

This was a (crude) measure of installed base, which is very different from the quarterly market share stats put out by research firms. Samsung and other Android OEMs may be shipping more new phones every quarter than Apple, but there are still an awful lot of old phones in use. That's why the subscriber numbers like those

. (I put it on the chart, but the number is zero.) In all of my commutes over the past two years, I've seen maybe half a dozen -- they're unusual enough that they always stand out.

can also be useful.

Some other observations:

from Comscore

As far as methodology goes, I only counted phones if I saw the person holding them and was 100% sure of the platform -- no guessing. A lot of people put custom cases on iPhones, which can make them hard to identify from a distance. So I generally counted them only if I could see the screen or the logo. I made some exceptions -- in particular, the huge screens on some Galaxy phones make them pretty easy to identify.

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