Commentary

Merry App-Mas: Apple Owned Holiday Smartphone Market

“Oh, shoot. I can’t type on this thing.”

I hadn’t counted on the fingernails. After years of complaining that her children and grandchildren don’t call her back, I finally convinced my 77-year-old mom that it was time to learn how to text. In a questionable effort to both dazzle and modernize her this Christmas, I decided to get her an iPhone 6 and teach her how to use it.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” my wife warned.

“She barely uses the laptop you gave her three years ago,” my daughter added. “Didn’t you buy her an iPod a long time ago? I think I saw it sitting in its charger for years.”

Yes, I insisted. There have been many false starts. But it was time to get Grandma into the 21st century. I know loads of seniors, my mother-in-law included, who can text like demons. In fact, to my wife’s shock and awe, her mother is using SMS abbreviations in her messages.

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“Where did she learn that?” my wife wonders. “I don’t even do that.”

I was determined to spend the day after Christmas walking my mom through the basics. She is a family therapist with multiple degrees. I knew there was grey matter in there that could be channeled to the task.

But I hadn’t counted on the nails.

“I can’t type on it,” she discovered about five minutes into the first lesson. My mother may be living in 2014, but parts of her body are still in 1962. Namely, she has fingernails that could double as letter openers. Small murals can be painted on these things. So it took three solid hours to get up to speed just to make a call.

I have been sending her texts for days now, hoping she would take up the challenge. This may not have been a great idea after all.

My mother continues to be an outlier, however, in not being able to operate the simplest smartphone operating system of them all. According to app analytics company Flurry, Apple owned this holiday. Based on smartphone activity registered by its app SDK in over 500,000 apps, Flurry announced this week that 51.3% of device activations between Dec. 19-25 were for Apple devices. Samsung was a far distant second, with 17.7%, trailed by Nokia at 5.8%, Sony (1.6%) and LG (1.4%). These are worldwide numbers, so the marginal presence of Chinese manufacturers in the mix reflect the Western-skew of the holiday time span.

As usual, app installation spiked 150% on Christmas Day. In my mother’s case, we added only one app -- The Weather Channel --  before we all gave up on the app download lesson and retired to tea and cookies.

For the rest of the modernized world, however, games and messaging apps led the spike in downloads. As Flurry points out, the 2.5X increase on Christmas is remarkable considering the ubiquity of smartphones at this stage. We are now in more of an upgrade stage of smartphone penetration.

Size is among the leading factors in the new phone purchasing decision. Flurry saw phablets more than triple their share of holiday activations over last year -- now up to 13%.

The lull in tablet sales is clear. While 2013 saw 29% of new activity coming from tablets, that was down to 22% this year. Phablets are starting to chew into tablet use, I am sure. But the upgrade cycles for tablets are also longer, and manufacturers are hitting a wall in developing attractive new features that compel upgrades.  

A tablet! That should be the next misguided attempt to digitize mom. Because the iPod, laptop and now iPhone follies still didn’t teach me a lesson. Because a host of other signals didn’t warn me off this project.

Like the fact that she's complained for the past year that her attempts to email me bounced back -- and that both she and my father had been dropping a letter from my address for two years.

That Dad still prints out emails sent to Mom on a single account they both share. “We should have separate email addresses?” they still ask me in wonder.

That both of them gasped in amazement when I showed them they could open a new tab in their Web browser.

That they still use definite articles in describing any digital process, like "the email,” and "the text."

And yet, Mom, who specifically asked for an iPhone 6 so she could do all of those wonderful things she sees in the ads, is still full of digital brio. “Oh, you may regret giving me this,” she crows. “Now I will be pestering all of you with messages from Grandma,” she announced to the kids and grandkids.

After five failed attempts by her to make her first solo iPhone call, getting deluged by messages from Grandma didn’t seem to be a major concern for anyone in the family. My sanity, however, seemed to be an open question.  

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