San Francisco: On Christmas, the mobile town that wasn't

By Richard Nieva , written on December 27, 2012

From The News Desk

It’s been a good year for San Francisco’s ego. named it America’s "Best City in 2012." Grantland named the Bay Area the best "sports city of the year" – an honor I never thought I’d see, though things have been looking up.

But there’s one small list where San Francisco does not tap the higher echelon – and it’s a bit of a surprise considering the city’s perch as the metropolitan center of the technology world. In a report released today, Mixpanel, a data analytics company, ranked the nation’s most active mobile cities during the holidays, based on data from Christmas day. San Francisco isn’t even on the list. Beating us out are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.

First, to be fair, we must scrutinize the data: Mobile usage was defined loosely, from logging into an app to shopping to playing a game. Curiously, there is no fifth slot, when some of the other categories on the report name the top five cities. The company’s PR agency tells me there are only four because “after that the data splits based on the mobile platform and would not be substantial enough to include.” That basically means there was no clear winner for number 5 among a slew of other cities. Either way, the agency goes out of its way to emphasize the city’s absence: “Missing? San Francisco.” the pitch says. (Bold and italics not mine.)

Not surprisingly, the top four cities are the four most populous cities in the country, in that order, according to census data. But San Francisco, the 14th largest city in the US, was able to round out the top 5 in terms of cities most active in desktop usage. So it seems reasonable that the same trend would follow in mobile.

Not that being atop the list is by itself necessarily a badge of honor. It could also mean that San Franciscans, you know, actually spent time with their families during the holidays. But that’s the thing about mobile. Even when you’re socializing amongst loved ones, you’re hard pressed not to see someone pull out a phone for a second and check an app.

It’s a snapshot of a single day, but it does still make you wonder if the city is really as app-obsessed as the companies who call it home. Other cities clearly like their apps more, which is funny because you know there’s got to be way more people in San Francisco out field testing their apps for the startups they work for. Of course, there are other tangential factors that might come into play, like cellular and Wi-Fi availability and reliability.

Still, if San Francisco is the big city leader in tech innovation, it seems the people in these companies’ backyard should be the most rabid, evangelical users. Even on Christmas, when mobile technology could be used to connect loved ones far away. The report said that overall, mobile usage had gone up about 10 percent on Christmas day compared to one week before. So the holiday doesn’t account for any slowdown.

It hasn’t been until relatively recently that technology became associated with San Francisco’s identity. That semiconductor, Web stuff was for the Valley, a car ride away down Interstate 280. But since the youngest, most in-demand engineers, designers and developers wanted – understandably so – to live in the big city, San Francisco embraced the image. You can’t step into a café without hearing someone pitching a new app. The rest of the city’s denizens should be first and most eager to adopt -- granted the thing is worthwhile.

On a more biased note, as someone born in San Francisco, it’s a personal point of pride. It’s not about being sucked into the vacuum of technology or being a zombie looking down at your phone. It’s about being excited and curious about the work that some of the brightest minds in the world are doing, literally miles or even steps away from you. Even if other cities have got larger population numbers on us, it’s a shame to let them be more enthusiastic about technology than us. Houston, watch out. We’re coming for you.

[Image courtesy masha_k_sh]