US deploys 500,000 iPhones for 2020 census

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iPhone 8 red
iPhone 8 is being put to work for the 2020 census.
Photo: Apple

Most Americans are used to celebrating April Fools’ Day on the first day of April, but there’s another hugely important holiday happening today that you probably don’t know about: Census Day.

The decennial holiday kicks off on April 1, which is an important reference date for the census as enumerators attempt to count how many people there are in the country and where they live. This time, census takers are turning to the iPhone 8 instead of pencil and paper to get the job done.

The U.S. Census Bureau is arming 500,000 enumerators with the iPhone 8 this year in hopes of bringing the census into the digital age. Starting on May 28, you may find an iPhone-touting enumerator knocking on your door if you didn’t already fill out the survey.

“We are proud that the US Census Bureau will use the iPhone for the collection and management of 2020 census data,” an Apple spokesperson told CNet. “The census is an important constitutional cornerstone that aims to ensure every one of us has equal representation, education and access in America.”

During the 2010 census, workers used 600,000 PDAs custom-built by HTC. The devices featured a small display and used GPS coordinates to track addresses. Switching to the iPhone unlocks better software and other tools to make the census more efficient.

Instead of buying 500,000 iPhones, the U.S. government contracted Illinois-based tech company CDW-G, which leased the devices. The iPhones will be shipped back once the census is over. After that, CDW-G will wipe them and then resell them for other enterprise purposes. The company originally planned to use the iPhone 6. But when the iPhone 8 came out, CDW-G realized the newer phone could be used at no additional cost.