Mobile Trendspotting in Hong Kong


Recently, I was fortunate enough to have some time to explore the financial center of Asia. Zipping around the islands to visit sights provided ample hours of train time for a digital strategist to geek-out on the natives with a bit of mobile ethnography.

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AI has crossed a maturity milestone and speech input is now a much more prevalent interface

Industrial-grade people-watching (without creeping anyone out) was aided once I wore my sunglasses and headphones to better blend in. Being relatively taller than most riders, I had a clear vantage to see both the types of apps and ways people used their phones. My inability to read Chinese minimized snooping guilt while I scanned screens and usage behaviors. I was also able to collect a few nice candid snaps (by channeling my inner @JeremyPair) and using the volume shutter button on the down-low.

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Seen + Noted

I tend to spend much of my headphone time with one earbud in and the other out. This is usually for urban safety (biking, walking) or dividing attention between two realms. The challenge tends to be where to put the remaining earbud so that it doesn’t get dipped in your coffee or flung about while on the move. Many Chinese men have faced the same challenge and have found that running the main cord, from their phone, up their back and into their ear with the leftover earbud draped over their other shoulder allows it to rest on their chest naturally and stay put.

Some of those same men would also steadily rest the microphone input from their earphone cord on their bottom lip as they traveled on the trains. This presumably aides in the clarity of speech when attempting conversations on noisy trains and city streets.

The most noticeable trend were sheer number people using messaging apps (usually WeChat) during their commutes. I saw dozens of cases of users leveraging their handset’s voice input feature and speaking their message into the app  then correcting the mistakes prior to sending. In the West, this is a fairly common way to text while preoccupied (when driving, cooking, etc), however these were train riders with undivided attention and–typically–two available thumbs. It feels like our AI has crossed a maturity milestone and speech input is now a much more prevalent interface, regardless of public setting. While not a new digital phenomenon, people continue  to trade privacy for convenience.

Cradled + Coveted

As expected, I saw many aftermarket gold-ish hard plastic protective cases. However the majority of cases (for women and men) were softer types with the suede face flaps protecting the screen.

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Men were also spotted with what I’ll term ‘manny-packs,’ or small camera bags worn on the front hip to hold their phones, spare battery and

Know Thy Selfie

My trip to Asia also reminded me that experiences undocumented never happened. Selfie sticks were ubiquitous with telescoping Bluetooth triggers and often times pointed out over the crowd to get better shot than the next guy.

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Marketers are now challenged with concocting branded scenarios that allow self-expression while embedding key product placement. Whether it was teens in a mall making words from 6’ tall letters, tasting cognac in front of a faux French landscape or posing before a Buddha head made from stacked tunafish cans–it had to be unique and share worthy. Each party now looks to the other to help co-create the next piece of content to evolve their respective online narratives.

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About Author

My name is Daniel T. Wood. I am an experience strategist working in Portland, Oregon. I primarily write about digital trends including user experience, technology, culture and marketing. I can be reached at

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