Mapping wealth by locating iPhone, Android, and Blackberry owners

Check out the maps of cell phone owners in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, and a number of other major American cities:

Among other things, cell phone brands say something about socio-economics – it takes a lot of money to buy a new iPhone 5 (and even more money to keep up with the latest models that come out faster than plan upgrades do). Consider, then, this map of Washington, D.C., which uses geolocated tweets, and the cell phone metadata attached to them, to illustrate who in town is using iPhones (red dots) and who’s using Androids (green dots)…

That picture comes from a new series of navigable maps visualizing some three billion global, geotagged tweets sent since September of 2011, developed by Gnip, MapBox and dataviz guru Eric Fischer. They’ve converted all of that data from the Twitter firehose (this is just a small fraction of all tweets, most of which have no geolocation data) into a series of maps illustrating worldwide patterns in language and device use, as well as between people who appear to be tourists and locals in any given city.

The locals and tourists map scales up a beautiful earlier project from Fischer. You could kill a few hours playing with all of these tools, built on the same dataset. But we particularly liked looking at the geography of smart phone devices. As in Washington, above, iPhones are often more prominent in upper-income parts of cities (and central business districts), while Androids appear to be the dominant device in lower-income areas.

It sounds like there could be some methodological issues here. The data doesn’t cover all Twitter users and then Twitter users are already a small subset of the US population. Nonetheless, these are interesting maps. I saw recently that over 50% of Americans now have smartphones – it jumped from 35% to 56% in several years. But, not all cell phones cost the same or aim for the same markets. iPhones aren’t just expensive. They also have a certain aesthetic and set of features that appeals to a certain set of Americans. Samsung had a set of recent commercials that played off the cool factor of iPhones, raising the idea of the phone as (expired?) status symbol. If you asked smartphone owners why they chose the phone they did, how many would admit that the status of the phone significantly factored into their decision?

More broadly, it would be interesting to think about what other common consumer goods could be mapped in ways that show clear patterns.

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