People not only judge each other on what they drive, what they wear and where they live, they are now judging each other on what electronics they whip out to use in public.
The iPhone seems to carry cachet for many users and Apple's devices are often seen as the "highest-end consumer products" in the gadget world, said Coye Cheshire, associate professor of sociology at the Berkeley School of Information.
There also seems to be a well-formed iPhone or iOS hipster identity, at least according to Hunch, a taste-predictor engine that uses Internet behavior research to predict what different people will like.
Those with Apple products made up 32 percent of 15,818 users surveyed in 2011; they seemed to skew older than 35, and were more likely to be female and have a graduate degree than people using other products.
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A group of people sitting down using their smartphones at a shopping mall in Bangkok. Photo: AFP / Nicolas Asfouri
These users are also more likely to be liberal and make more than 200,000 dollars a year. They're extroverted, enjoy spending money and define themselves as "high-maintenance."
"The iPhone became a status symbol because people equated smartphone with iPhone," said Roslyn Layton, a Ph.D. candidate in Internet economics at the University of Copenhagen.
Android users, on the other hand, seem to skew more rural (86 percent more likely than iPhone users to live in a rural area), are more likely to vote conservatively (20 percent more than iPhone users) and are 10 percent more likely to be male.
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Android users may be making a statement against the iPhone. Most people have reference groups, or people they hang out with or aspire to be, said Brent McFerran, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.
"People either want to be like that group or disassociate themselves from another group by doing the opposite," he said.
People using their smartphones while walking on the platform of a BTS train station in Bangkok. Photo: AFP/ Nicolas Asfouri
Some may make an even bigger statement by using other smartphone operating systems. The Hunch survey seemed to relegate BlackBerry and the Windows Phone to a footnote, with BlackBerry users labeled as introverted city folk (equally likely to be male or female) who like to travel; it summed up Windows Phone users as politically moderate, suburban soccer moms.
The Mac is another Apple product with a controversial identity. According to an April 2011 survey by Hunch, PC users tend to be suburban and rural, while Mac users are far more likely to be overeducated, vegetarian urbanites. PC users are more like to stop by the meme site I Can Haz Cheezburger, while Mac users want a peek at the Huffington Post.
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But Hunch also reported that Mac users consider themselves early adopters, while PC users are "later adopters."
The Apple owners are also more likely to be ages 18 to 34, compared to the PC users' 35-to-49 demographic. More than half of Hunch's 388,315 respondents owned PCs, representing a much bigger chunk than the Mac users' 25 percent.
A picture showing friends looking at their smartphones at a coffee shop in a shopping mall in Bangkok. Photo: AFP/ Nicolas Asfouri
Tablets have all kinds of users. However, most are considered leisure users, according to Frank N. Magid Associates. Unlike the first wave of tablet owners, people in the second wave tend to use the device occasionally, are less tech savvy, and more likely to be female and older than 50.
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Some experts say that making judgments based on the technology people use says something about wealth and privilege.
A picture shows people using their smartphones and tablets in a shopping mall in Bangkok. Photo: AFP/ Nicolas