Smartphones in Asia

Casual observations during travels in the region


This was originally written for Weightshifting, a Tinyletter I keep, during a week whilst I was visiting family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October 2014.

People here love big phones.

They prize big phones in the same way that the characters from the movie Her regard their devices. They are customized, elegant machines. Often encased in some kind of leather/fake leather flipcase, making them look like wallets or notebook journals. It’s refreshing to see the reverence that people devote to their gear.

They are not subsidized here. People pay full price for them, and for many, this is their only computer. It is a worthwhile investment. And the smartest choice: to buy the largest device you can.

White is popular here. (White cars are also a trend, my mom informs me.) Devices are white. Black isn’t as prevalent. But colored backs are popular. Android devices, particularly Samsung, are dominant. iPhones, not so much. But the 6 and 6 Plus are smart moves. The U.S. may not understand it, but Cook and Co. have done the research, and they’re smart — moving to where the puck has been. In Asia, it feels like catch-up. The view of smartphones is different here.

It is about putting these devices in people’s hands, and in their lives. And seemingly, not in their pockets.

They are status symbols. A way to financially show you can hang. That you can afford one. Nikes and clothes no longer matter, but that big-ass phone? That has value. They are not hidden away in pants, purses and backpacks. Rather, they are held in hand, a little piece of a person’s everyday carry. They are whipped out for photos, for communication, for watching videos and reading while walking.

They all have cases with covers. Almost.

I look at my iPhone 5s, and it feels small within this context. No one cares. They have the best phone in front of them. So many options for a very diverse place and culture. No one size fits all. Many sizes for many. Many styles fit many. Many ways to express yourself.

I look at them almost longingly, with a newly found desire to sheath this phone in a bespoke leather cover.

Like Theodore in Her, it is one’s most precious device. And one would treat her well.

Photo courtesy of Kārlis Dambrāns, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.