The smart phone race gets boring

Sunday, 7 October 2012 - 10:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
There is no longer a ‘best smartphone’ in the market. There are many great smartphones out there. And this, though boring, is good for consumers.

Another iPhone launch. Another sales record broken. Yet, despite the 5 million handsets sold within three days of the launch, the sentiment this time was different. Even staunch Apple fans were disappointed by the iPhone 5.

Let’s recap: The biggest change in the iPhone 5 is its larger 4inch screen. Apart from that, the upgrades were pretty standard — a more powerful processor, an upgraded operating system, and a more intelligent Siri, which is Apple’s voice assistant. Admittedly, the presentation was lacklustre, with one Apple executive even exclaiming, “Our larger screen allows you to have an extra row of icons on the home screen.” (Duh!).

But the main reason why fans are disappointed is that the iPhone 5 doesn’t have a single never-seen-before feature. A four-inch screen and a more powerful processor? Android phones such as the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III already have close to 5inch screens along with quad-core processors. New maps with 3D view? The app sucks compared to Google Maps.

But skeptics disillusioned by the iPhone 5 are missing one key point. Why did Android phone manufacturers choose to add all those features to their smartphones? It was to differentiate themselves from the iPhone because they couldn’t do better than Apple on an important point — the user experience that comes from the harmony of hardware and software.

Android is built by Google. Companies like HTC and Samsung give it their own theme and add a few tweaks before porting the operating system onto their phones. That’s why even though the experience of using, say, a Galaxy S III is great, there are some creases that just don’t get ironed out.

More importantly, once Google launches updates to the OS, users have to wait for their respective manufacturers to release it — the wait sometimes stretches up to nine months. Compare this with how Apple operates: The latest iOS is unveiled at the beginning of the year, with Apple announcing the exact month when it will be made available to users. On the said date, every iPhone user gets to update the software on their phone.

An iPhone user can also expect that Apple will support older versions of the iPhone by releasing compatible software updates for at least 3-4 years. This is great for users as well as app developers, who can build better apps knowing that a bulk of their customers have the same version of the OS.

On the other hand, Android phone manufacturers tend to wash their hands of the phone once it is sold, thinking, mistakenly, that people are paying just for the hardware. But, by paying for apps, smartphone users invest in the software platform too.

Simply put, Apple doesn’t need to do a lot to stay ahead of the race. A 4inch screen and bumped up processing speed may be boring, but Apple has ensured that existing users don’t leave its stables, and the iPhone continues to be one of the best smartphones available.

What Apple fanboys have to accept is that the smartphone segment has matured — meaning the race has gotten boring. Every phone has a great feature that the other doesn’t. The Samsung’s Galaxy S III has a feature wherein users don’t have to press the ‘Call’ button. Hold the phone to your ear, and the phone does the rest. Nokia’s Lumia 920 that runs on Windows 8 has a screen that betters the iPhone’s Retina Display.

There is no longer a ‘best smartphone’ in the market. There are many great smartphones out there. And this, though boring, is good for consumers.


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