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Opinion: Smartphones have gotten so good, it’s hard to really get excited anymore
It’s almost remarkable to think about the devices we use today: just a few short years ago, “commonplace” components like a QHD display would be unheard of. “Mundane” features like High Fidelity audio would be unthinkable. Heck, even something as “basic” as biometric security was impossible to find. Mobile devices – be they of the smartphone or tablet variety – have truly progressed in an explosive and impressive degree over the past few years.
In turn, many manufacturers have gotten into the mobile game. Over a thousand by account of a piece The Wall Street Journal published last year. The larger and more prominent OEMs have been solid staples for years: Apple, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung. So too, were companies like Nokia and Sony. These days however, the names Huawei, Xiaomi, One Plus, and Oppo are but a few of the “new” comers to the Western world.
The problem, ironically, is that despite there being so many absolutely fantastic devices, there is an intangible lack of something else. Nothing shocks me anymore; nothing jumps out as “buy me” these days.
I will be the first to admit that, for personal purposes or for the purposes of writing pieces for Android Authority, I test out a lot of devices. My habits are hardly in-line with the average consumer, or even some of the more “standard” enthusiasts. Nonetheless, there is a commonality I have arrived at, and a somewhat disappointing one at that: these devices that were once so special, are now not even holding my attention.
The First Wave of Apathy and a temporary panacea
Around the middle of 2014, I bemoaned what I felt to be the “death” of the industry’s interesting ideas. Products like the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3 simply didn’t excite me at all. The Galaxy Note 3 from the year before had been a major “meh” for me despite it also being a great product in its own right. On more than one occasion I had told friends or family that I felt “bored with smartphones” and “not sure if I could be interested in a new one the same way I once was.”
The Galaxy Note Edge
When the Galaxy Note Edge was announced however, I was enthralled. This was a device that dared to be definitively different. It was instantly a polarizing product with the curved display and high price tag. And yet, it was seemingly nothing short of pure brilliance. A new way to interact with the same old product, and a new way to present it to boot. Ultimately the Note Edge was so influential that it would be the catalyst that earned me a writing position at Android Authority…
The Galaxy S6/S7 Edges
…so imagine my surprise and disbelief when the Galaxy S6 Edge was released several months later – Spring of 2015 – and I found myself on the other end of the jump-for-joy jamboree. Here was a product that, while it looked nifty, was seemingly a major step back from the intuitive features shown in the Note Edge. In a very real sense, the Edge display was marketed as Samsung for nothing other than being a novelty.
When the S7 Edge was announced just last month, my reaction was even more mundane. As someone who didn’t care in the slightest about the missing microSD or waterproofing from the S6-era, the appeal of the new product was lost, given its retaining essentially the same design.
The ease of upgrading
Making this overall problem more profound is the fact that companies – carriers and manufacturers – have made it easier than ever to upgrade devices. Carriers have long mandated two year contracts, sometimes even three. But as smartphones began to take off in earnest, it became more and more obvious to their balance sheets that customers were suddenly spending like never before. This of course, would translate to more money and thus facilitating an easy upgrade program is in their interests.
Likewise, Apple and Samsung have their own internal programs wherein customers can get tangible benefits by upgrading through the company itself. And then there are sites like eBay, which also facilitate the upgrade process by offering minimum sale price guarantees so the Seller doesn’t have to worry about taking too big a hit.
The Clear Case of Comoditization
Ultimately this situation culminates in the simple reality that smartphones – and tablets by extension – have become commonplace commodities. When one thinks of toilet paper for example, it would be safe to assume there is very little consideration put into the selection process. While prospects like cars, televisions, and smartphones all cost considerably more money, aside from brand loyalty there is very little to differentiate the lot these days.
Apple fans will love Apple, and Samsung fans Samsung. This much is a given. But for those who aren’t committed to a specific manufacturer; for those who are open to choice and have changed brands before, they can more-or-less pick the “same” product from over a dozen different vendors nowadays. Smartphones are so “commonplace” that they have ceased to be different; not because of any given lack of initiative per se, but simply because with so many of the same products being sold, there is truly only so much that can be done to differentiate.
Have Hope (!/?)
Despite the relatively negative portrait painted in this piece, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- The vast, vast majority of the general public does not purchase new devices on an annual cycle. While this may indeed change in the future given how major carriers are keen to eliminate two year contracts and companies like Samsung and Apple are pushing their own upgrade programs, most people simply don’t care about technology to the extent that they need the latest and greatest to survive. For these individuals, new devices will always hold a more special sense of sentiment, because they are both a less common occurrence and because the new product itself will likely have significant upgrades from their previous one.
- While dazzling devices are indeed a thrill to purchase or use, their intrinsic value are – like with everything – of a finite level. Everything is amazing when you first get it, hence many referring to it as the “Honeymoon Period.” It’s only after that ends that a device can truly do what it was designed to: provide communication functions. With all the hoopla and hype put into these products to make them larger than life, at the end of the day we’re still talking about a phone here, not a cure to acclimatization.
- It is possible that there will be a device released in the next year or so that truly wows even jaded journalists like myself.
While I am clearly not so enthralled with the latest and greatest products that are priming the market, keep in mind that I am not suggesting they are in any way bad products. Ironically the problem, at least as I see it, is that the products are just so good that. The specs have arguably gone beyond the very uses the devices are made for, to the point where it’s seemingly just a spec increase for spec increasing sakes at times.
I am particularly interested to know what you, the reader, thinks. Are you also getting jaded by these new devices? Or are you more interested than ever before? Feel free to answer the survey question below, and then post your thoughts in the comments section!