Chew On This: Stop Rewarding Mobile Mediocrity

While sifting through my tech list on Twitter I came across a post about new parts that’ll be going into the iPad4. Something about that post really pissed me off. I wasn’t just angry at the idea of ANOTHER product coming down the pipe. I was mad at myself for even giving it the base thought of “I wonder if I should buy that?” Mobile technology manufacturers have created a truly extraordinary culture over the last 5 years. A culture where the average consumer is not only inclined but compelled to make a major purchase on a seemingly annual cycle. When I think of why manufacturers are producing major products with such a quick turnover, I’m sadly left with the realization that consumers such as myself have not only been tolerating, but in effect enabling this behaviour.

I bought my iPhone 3GS in mid 2010.

I bought my iPhone 4 in April 2011.

I bought my iPhone 4S in November 2011.

In September 2012 I was bombarded with one question:

“When are you buying an iPhone 5?”

I grew annoyed with the idea that people thought it a guarantee I would purchase a product simply because it was new on the market. Retrospect says my friends were making a sound assumption. A clear purchasing pattern had been established. Why did I feel the need to purchase 3 phones within 2 years? Truth be told, my 3GS would likely be serving me just as well as my 4S to this day if I had stuck with it. One could argue that it’s a status symbol. “Oooooh you have the new (fill in overpriced phone here)? Can I see it?” One could argue that the features of the newer phone are a necessity. “I love to take photos so I HAVE TO HAVE the latest camera in (fill in overpriced phone here). Look at how great the photos are (unless it’s at night).” In the end though, what it boils down to is our cell phones and mobile tech as a whole have become so entrenched in our lives that being “behind” the times is almost unacceptable.

Almost…

It’s important to recognize one very simple fact about mobile technology that’s lost on today’s consumer. Cell phones, Smartphones, and Tablets are a luxury, not a necessity. “I can’t live without my phone” is a term that’s thrown around everywhere. Shocking isn’t it, that up to 5 years ago for Smartphones and 10 years ago for Cell Phones, A LOT of people lived perfectly normal lives without mobile technology welded firmly to their hands. Every new piece of mobile tech is a high cost luxury item. It isn’t something that should be bought on an annual basis. Can you imagine how stupid someone would come across if they ran a brag about buying the newest and biggest television every year? “Yeah bud, that’s great. Now buy a bigger living room for your TV.” I use my computer on a daily basis. Am I really going to drop an extra 2 grand each year for a marginally better model?

No

So why are consumers doing it with Mobile Technology?

Where the mob leads, people follow.

It’s surprising to hear how many people will say “I need this” in reference to a Smartphone but when asked why, they don’t have a concrete answer. Some will say they’re at the end of their contract. Some may have a phone that’s been performing poorly and they’re at their wits end. Sadly, those folks with a “legitimate” reason to warrant a major purchase seemingly represent the minority rather than majority. The majority have become a juggernaut of brand loyalty and purchasing power, even at the expense of other luxuries. I read a recent report in the Wall Street Journal discussing how families are re-organizing their budgets just to get the latest Smartphone. I was taken aback by the very idea of sacrificing the luxuries of life in order to get the latest phone. Is it really worth the while? Is the phone in your hand really that much worse than the new one?

“It’s twice as fast.”

Have you ever tested a phone running at 1ghz and one at say 1.5ghz with the same operation? The newer phone is going to run the application at about 1/10th of a second quicker. There are comparison videos of the iPhone 4S and 5 floating around that made me laugh. The former is running just a hair behind the latter. Are those seconds really worth the $900 + accessories of getting another Smartphone? Our culture (for the sake of argument I’ll keep this within North America) have been manipulated into believing that newer is always better. How much better is better though? How important is your money in comparison to a marginal upgrade? Is there any real value in another purchase? Manufacturers would rather upgrade than innovate. Innovation is what prompted the Smartphone boom in the first place. We as consumers have been throwing money at what amounts to the same archetype of Smartphone for 5 years. Where are our standards?

I remember back in April when the iPad 3 announcement came down. I was furious with what amounted to an iPad 2 with a nicer screen. “Who in their right mind is going to buy that?” Apparently A LOT of people. Then the iPhone 5 announcement came down a few weeks ago. “It’s a taller 4S. No one is going to buy that.” Apple sold 5 million of them in a week. WHAT THE HELL?! What’s the consumer breaking point? How much thinner, faster, nicer screen, do consumers need before they ask “what’s REALLY different?” 5 years of brand loyalty over a marginally better product a midst a sea of competition is insanity. I focus on Apple but it’s not like any of the other mobile “giants” are any better. Call, Text, Email, Internet. It’s what you “need” a Smartphone for. Those necessities were met a long time ago, yet we as a consumer whole, spend in the billions to have that same base functionality in another shell. Consumers have GOT to put a stop to the spending. If we continue to enable companies to put out marginally better products at a massively large profit (the average manufacturing to retail profit of an iPhone 5 is around 350%) companies will never change.

After seeing the iPad 3 and iPhone 5 announcement I knew I was done with Apple. I was done giving any more money to a company that didn’t deserve it. My 4S serves me extraordinarily well and it’s about time I acknowledge the fact that “good enough” is just that. There’ll always be new products. It’s up to us to make an informed decision and make a purchase worthy of our money. As consumers, we have got to stop rewarding mediocrity. We have the ability to influence manufacturing and developer change.

It just requires a little will power.

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6 thoughts on “Chew On This: Stop Rewarding Mobile Mediocrity

  1. This is the second blog post since the recent Apple product release that has focused on the lack of innovation by the smartphone/ portable computer industries. Is the economy and saturation of the new devices going to reach the manufacturers or only the end user distributors?

    • When manufacturers are setting new company records with each release despite marginal updates, the message simply won’t reach them. Distribution will see the impact far quicker when they’re buying up units in the hundreds or thousands and they’re sitting in warehouses as consumers grow tired over burning disposable income.

  2. I was definitely one of the friends that assumed you’d be buying an iPhone5. Mostly based on whatever the latest one is, you generally have it.
    I got the 4 and I’m doing fine. From everything I’ve heard about Siri you stop using it after about a month. And for turn by turn directions I’ve had that for about 8 months already on my iphone with a 2 dollar app that uses openmap technology, meaning it’s generally up to date before everyone else.

    • I’ve never been a fan of any of the GPS apps on iPhone. I always find they’re lagging just a hair behind when driving. While I don’t drive anymore, I keep my old Garmin GPS handy.

  3. A very interesting analysis and I agree with several of your points. Consumers are convinced the newer or later is better. The auto industry has a tried and tested model also. Consumers can’t wait to get the latest year model even when there is nothing “wrong” with their existing model vehicle. From my experience subjective analysis is not the most important factory in consumer purchase decisions. How much marketing have you experienced indicating the latest model will make you “feel” better. Your use of this item and the “feeling” experience is only available via the newest model.

    My 1998 Windstar minivan with 270,000 kms was on the road 12 years and several times I thought I would “feel” better with a new minivan. It was hard to resist but eventually the repair costs were matching the new minivan cost so I replaced the vehicle. I have a Palm Pre which was released in 2009. It has limitations and can not perform several functions available on the newest and latest smart phones. I picked up 5 phones for the family on 3 year terms with a coupon from Bell. Zero dollars on the phone and $15 dollars off the standard monthly $50 plan. The company couldn’t give away these phones and had to use a $2,700 discount to get my business.

    I believe the power of consumerism by manufactures is using visual media to create a feeling between the consumer and the product. Although not always successful, I try to keep my feelings for people and not for “tools” I use in every day life. Sadly I have many consumer products in my house but nearly all of them are not the latest, greatest or most expensive.

    I do appreciate your thoughts on this issue and I am always looking to improve subjective decision making.

    Thanks
    Peter

  4. I want to start by saying that I loved this blog post. I agree with many of your observations and I was also surprised when I read the Wall Street Journal Article you sited.

    When the rumours of the iPhone 5 started circulating, people were sure that I was going to purchase it. I was THAT girl. The gadget geek – the one person that even the Jones’ were trying to keep up with.

    I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be considered part of the mindless flock that will always pay Apple’s price for their latest-greatest toy. I reserve the right to purchase only what I really need and not throw my hard earned money at the mortgages of Apple’s CEO and executive.

    Having said that, I think it’s important to remember that consumerism and the purchases of big ticket items keeps economies moving. Let’s hope that these purchases are not adding to the debt load of all ready debt heavy families… that wont help.

    It truly is a multifaceted issue that you’ve brought to light Justin. Lot’s for people to think about.

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