A week into its launch, the iPhone 7 continues to inspire memes (I have a feeling blogs and FB pages aren’t done with it yet). While some of the mockery is understandable, especially concerning the new feature of removing a hitherto omnipresent feature, most of the other reactions revolve around the smartphone not being exciting enough.
And herein lies a pointer to what ails consumer technology, especially smartphones.
Manufacturers, including Apple, have made novelty and vanity so integral to their products and brands, that consumers today are increasingly quickly bored. Every other product is marketed as game changing and being the future, accompanied by promises to transform your life and soul. Granted, such marketing is true for other industries as well, like say, automobiles.
However, it seems more pronounced in the digital technology industry, especially smartphones, where, in the absence of any enhanced core functions, novelty and vanity take precedence.
It’s not just the average consumer who is seduced by the latest coolest smartest device, but even tech blogs and tech media have bought into this idea that every launch, every model has to blow their minds off, leaving them gawking at the launch presentation, already salivating on the prospect of getting their hands on a review piece.
Anything lesser means failure.
Our smartphones are already pretty capable devices. It’s an unrealistic expectation that every version will be cooler and more functional than its predecessor that it would be worth an immediate upgrade. I would go as far as to say, often, even a two generation old model perfectly suits its owner’s requirements. Any new feature in a newer model is most likely in the novelty and vanity realm.
Nobody complains when a 2016 version of an air conditioner, car, or laptop isn’t any significant upgrade over a 2015, or even 2014 model. Why are the expectations different for smartphones, especially Apple? Part of the answer lies in how Apple made feel-good-factor a major product specification as well as positioning, right from the very first iPhone.
In comparison, Nokia and Blackberry, the two had-been players in the smartphones games, just did not exude the same feeling (this isn’t to say that the first iPhone wasn’t a commendable smartphone without the marketing. It was, in many ways).
There’s only so much feel-goodness you can churn out year after year, no matter how much you spend on making the exterior feel richer, redesign icons and their placement, obsess over weight distribution so the phone can be held more comfortably, or any of the several such minute elements.
Any optimization, beyond a point, enters a zone of diminishing results. It’s no wonder that the very same people who were awed by appeal of the iPhone are now beginning to get bored. Even good design becomes boring. Sooner or later.
Here’s the counterview of the week: smartphones are getting less exciting.
This version of the iPhone may still see people queuing up in front of Apple Stores the night before availability, but this mania won’t last long. There’s little to nothing new that’s tangible that even a giant like Apple is able to put into its devices. Smartphones have hit a plateau in core functions – calls and messaging; and being connected and synced online. Also, our smartphone experience is already device agnostic (at least, within the same platform), it is application dependent.
I do not expect the next launches to be any more exciting. It will be more of the same.
[Written by Kailas Sastry]