Friday, 12 April 2013

Blinkfeed in brown sauce

Jeez, must they? For a change I cycled to work listening to a world service business programme witter on about the various Samsung vs Apple lawsuits. Ooooh how much of what you pay for a phone is getting gobbled up by lawyers they said and so on til I switched off in response to the rank shiteness of business reporting in Britain especially when it concerns “technology”.

Here’s the deal; the Samsung vs Apple bollocks is just the pepsi challenge i.e. an exercise in marketing and product positioning, for phones. Apple, by taking Samsung to court for supposedly copying the minutiae of its product designs, gets to highlight how much importance they attach to design, which in turn leaves apple product buyers with a warm feeling inside after they’ve paid way over the odds for dem lovely rounded corners. More importantly, the exercise seeks to define the market as being about just those two companies – you’ve either a pepsi phone or a coca cola one with everything else relegated to supermarket own brand status.

The maturity of the product market means this focus on branding is increasingly important as manufacturers try to cope with how its changed; we’ve had the take-off stage where everyone got a dumb phone and the basic act of getting a phone for the first time saw sales grow exponentially. Then we saw the big switch over to smart phones, which again saw exponential sales. Now, with everyone in an advanced economy who wants one having pretty much already got a smart phone, we’ve gone from take-off to maturity with manufacturers focusing on trying to encourage as many people as possible upgrade their phones every 2 years with all that entails in terms of developing brands to preserve margin and engender product loyalty.

Except, unless you’re a tech nerd, there’s no “compelling” technological reason to upgrade, the inanity of subsequent developments being captured by the daily mash when they described the latest Samsung’s wolf attack mode i.e. once you’ve got a phone with a big screen that can surf the internet, play games and take pics as well as do phone stuff, everything else is pretty much irrelevant. So another obvious comparison now, besides coke, is baked beans where for apple read Heinz and for HTC’s blinkfeed read “in brown sauce” i.e. a minor variation on an established theme that's of limited if any significance.
And the business and technology writers? They actually take the legal bollocks at face value along with whether or not a Sony experia can save you from wolves. Worse, they appear to revel in it all, which is understandable given it means easy copy and a means of selling advertising space (Oh and its going to get worse, because for mature products product differentiation is typically driven by marketing). This in turn means rather than  trustedreviews (aye right) we get spoon fed PR releases, the only mediating factor being the amount of advertising the associated product entails. 

What makes this bad for consumers is obvious and obviously more material issues get ignored by men currently fixated on debating the importance of size. Like say if you can’t change the battery of a phone, then the battery effectively determines its usable lifespan meaning there’s additional expense, the environmental waste of binning an otherwise perfectly usable phone yadda yadda yadda,.

Or there’s the rip off prices charged for extra memory e.g. compare the £70 extra for a 32gb Nexus 10 versus a 16gb one with the £10 it costs to buy a 16gb SD card. 

More generally, when google ran out of Nexus 10s over winter to the point where apps were made to notify you when any where available, did the beeb's technology person Rory Cellan-Jones pick up on this story concerning one of the world’s most newsworthy companies? Like was there a fundamental break down in supply chains? Was it being withheld so as not to distract from the Nexus 7 in the run up to Christmas/avoid cannibalising Samsung's – who make the Nexus 10 – own brand tablet sales? And is there a broader business strategy at work here given after it bought Motorola google effectively sat on the Razr HD Maxx, the one phone to solve the problem of short battery life? Nope, because Rory Cellan-Jones is to journalism what prison rape is to badgers*.

Back to compelling technological reasons, well I guess there is one wee one and its Betamax shaped. Quick recap – with video players, VHS competed with Betamax. Betamax was the better technology in terms of video quality, but VHS had the most films to rent i.e. it had the software, so it won. Now phone operating systems are where its at and are getting ever larger and more sophisticated, which in turn means phones increasingly need to be upgraded to keep up with the latest software. Actually, there’s no need to make the video comparison, just think how much of a pain in the arse each new version of Windows is.

As for me having just changed the battery on my two year old phone, I've put off getting a replacement for at least a year - the research this entailed prompting the discovery of how profoundly wrong business tech journalism is. No my phone still won’t save me from wolves, yes keeping it has saved me over £200. And YEEEESSSSSSS , that's all the standard viruses on Plague Inc now done.

* i.e. not especially nice and a complete irrelevance

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