Every time we visit a city for fun or business, we take note of the sorts of iPods and iPhones we see—and don’t see—on the streets and subways, as well as the performance of our iPhones as we’re traveling around. We spent this weekend in downtown Chicago for the annual Taste of Chicago, and were frankly very surprised at what we found: a higher density of iPod classics/5Gs than anywhere we’ve seen before, with a considerable number of second-generation iPod shuffles, and relatively few iPhones. New York City, by comparison, seemed like iPhone central even before the launch of the iPhone 3GS, and we saw lots of iPhones in Washington, D.C., as well; we’d imagine that these places must be overflowing with iPhone 3GS units by now.
One thing that doesn’t receive a lot of media attention—for obvious reasons—is the fairly significant variation in iPhone 3G performance from city to city. We were stunned, for instance, to see just how poorly the iPhone 3GS performed in our informal Chicago speed tests relative to the ones we ran in Western New York, which we previously thought was as slow as 3G could get nationally. Our Buffalo-area download speeds were roughly 50% faster than in Chicago, while upload speeds were two or three times faster; speeds and signal strength also dropped considerably indoors. Even more surprising was our iPhone 3GS’s screwy GPS performance in Chicago: the unit is almost exactly on target in Western New York, but our little blue locator dot was literally all over the map in downtown Chicago, frequently off by blocks and exhibiting issues in compass orientation, as well. A first-generation iPhone we brought along seemed to be doing a better job of triangulation without GPS hardware, amazing as that was.
Buggy software? A hardware issue? We’re not sure. And we’re also not sure whether 3G network issues or just storage concerns might have accounted for the huge number of hard drive-based iPods we saw. This may have also been the first city we’ve visited where the number of iPod shuffles we saw in use outnumbered iPod nanos by a wide margin. While our observations are clearly not scientific, we’d like to hear from readers in Chicago: what iPods or iPhones have you seen in heavy use there? Any ideas as to why they’re popular? Are you having 3G network issues? Seeing good 3G speeds? GPS performance? We’re curious.