Embarrassed

There’s something strange that’s been happening in the world of tech as hotly anticipated products (primarily of the Apple variety) near launch: the world finds out about them long before they’re unveiled.

I think the entire phenomenon is so strange. When kids are young and looking forward to a hot new toy, they sometimes try to approximate its presence in their lives by creating an ersatz model to take the place of the real thing until they can actually touch, hold, and use the real thing. Strangely, this is happening with increasing frequency to the iPhone. The tech world is so hungry for anything iPhone that they will contract graphic designers to create 3D models of the new gadgets, and even go so far as to build full physical models.

The noise is deafening.

Post after post featuring blurry component photos hits the interwebs, and the tech press gobbles them up like bacon-stuffed donuts. Most folks don’t follow tech blogs, don’t really have a pressing desire to know the internal layout of new gadgets, feel no need to really seek this stuff out. They read what falls in their lap and, usually, are better and more sane because of it.

Then the device hits, and it elicits “yawns” from the peanut gallery because they’ve already seen it all. They make sweeping (often literally global) statements about the reception of the product, about the excitement it’s generated, etc. Their actions are, again, childish, just like the kid whose favorite team gets eliminated from the playoffs really early and starts claiming that no one likes [insert sport here] anymore, anyway.

Ultimately, they’re embarrassed.

Who wouldn’t be? Their phones are either knock-offs or faked. The real deal is just that, and consumers know the difference. Companies will try to illustrate how their products “stack up” against Apple’s iPad, or iPhone, or whatever, but it ultimately just makes them look, again, juvenile. I can make a checklist that makes me look like the best human being ever compared to random people on the street. I could create a checklist of the features of a raw, uncooked potato, and compare it to all the features of a slice of deep-dish Chicago pizza, but comparing those two things would make no sense. “Grows in the ground”, “Has eyes”, “Will sprout if placed in water” are all “features” of the potato that the pizza doesn’t have, but who really cares? I’ll take the pizza thankyouverymuch.

Which leads me back to my point. The leaked specs, the feature parity, the checklists, etc. are all meaningless in the face of true user experience and the whole package.

A guy I know had his iPhone run over by a car. It was absolutely destroyed, which was sad for him. He was contemplating purchasing a replacement, but decided to wait it out until his contract was up for renewal so he could purchase a new iPhone 4S. In the meantime, someone gave him a Motorola Droid RAZR (or whatever it’s called…these things have the weirdest names). He ditched the Droid in favor of an iPhone 3G. You read that right. He disliked the Droid user experience so much that he went with a molasses-slow (comparatively) phone, simply because the overall user experience was so superior. When you’re on the losing team, shouting really loudly and making a lot of noise is still fun, sure, but it doesn’t win you ball games. Just ask Cubs fans.

At any rate, it’s clear that people are jazzed about the iPhone 5, and all these “yawn” reactions are just the tech news equivalent of Cubs fans getting uppity. People will choose good design and a fluid, beautiful user experience over checklists and noise.

As they say, it doesn’t take a genius.

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25 Comments on “Embarrassed”

  1. cartoonmick says:

    The people who make all this hi-tech stuff watch how the politicians do it.

    Politicians leak stuff they figure will best sell them to the voters.

    I guess marketing phones is not all that different, but maybe sometimes they get it wrong.

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/

    Cheers

    Mick

  2. Angela says:

    Haha, you might enjoy this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rdIWKytq_q4
    (Jimmy Kimmel hits the streets with the soon-to-be-”outdated” iPhone 4S, tells passersby it’s the new iPhone 5, gauges reactions, and palm-to-forehead hilarity ensues.)

    • Paul says:

      I love this! It also paints a pretty bleak picture of the opposite end of the spectrum: being completely uninformed.

      Jury’s still out on which is worse, but I feel like we all know which one is more entertaining ;)

  3. rmk says:

    I generally refuse to sign cell phone contracts, or buy ridiculously expensive phones that will get destroyed in tragic ways so I am definitely not a part of this world.

    • Paul says:

      Hey man, it takes all types. None of my phones have ever experienced such a fate, but I hear where you’re coming from. As materials improve, chance of “tragic” failure decreases.

      Sadly, if you own a car, kitchen appliances, lawn care equipment, etc., then you’re probably already participating in the world you’re trying to move away from. It’s hard to break away from that.

      Since WordPress doesn’t have a “carrier pigeon” plug-in, I can safely assume that you viewed this and commented on it using a computer. I would classify that as “part of this world” :) Don’t worry though! It’s not so bad here.

      • rmk says:

        I don’t hate it, cellphones are just fairly fragile in my experience. I’m happy with my relatively cheap android and I’ll use it until it stops working.

  4. Ah, you’re so right. But it’s not just an iPhone thing, although iPhone does bring it out in people. I think the media is like this across the board – monkeys on a wire, and he who chatters first chatters best. May not make much sense or be factually correct, but what the hey… Also, as far as I can see, the world of smartphone users is fracturing along iPhone / Android lines. For some reason, there are people who take pride in using clunky, awkward interfaces. I know people, believe it or not, who refuse iPhones. Something about ‘corporate control’. Well, I’m not in it for the philosophy. But I am there for the good design and intuitive interface. :) So you know what? If there’s ever a day that android systems are as good, I’d be happy to try one.
    PS, great blog name.

    • Paul says:

      Agreed. Anything with significant cultural weight is going to draw eyeballs (Remember the recent Aol debacle? Their writers were effectively told that their content was irrelevant in the face of attention-grabbing headlines featuring culturally relevant buzzwords that would generate clicks, page views, and, thus, ad revenue.), and eyeballs=cash.

      The fracturing along OS lines is dangerous, I think. I think Apple’s hardware, software, support, and the hard-to-pin-down feeling that users get when all of those are combined are impossible for any other manufacturer to replicate right now. That being said, there may come a day (not for the foreseeable future) when Apple’s products lose relevance and slip. I think their top-notch design, engineering, and software teams will make sure that doesn’t happen for a long time. Now imagine, given the caliber of products being shipped by all manufacturers right now, what the product that takes the new throne will look and feel like. I have a hard time with that because we can all hold the future in our hands right now.

      How will today’s future take shape? How will that feel? Who will usher the new era in?

      • Price point and accessibility will determine how a lot of people choose their phones. In these conditions, it would be very easy to imagine Apple becoming a niche product again. Apple aren’t exactly the Ikea of technology in terms of a price point for everyone, but let’s hope they have the courage of their convictions and aren’t swayed too much when the inevitable share price slide turns the AGMs vicious. That’s the true test of management vision.

      • Paul says:

        True that, but they can compete on the low end with older tech; today’s iPhone 4 costs $0 with a new contract. Even IKEA’s prices are non-zero.

      • Excellent point. Well presented :)

  5. Kaberi Chand says:

    HAHA!!!Nice one there!!!All those talks about iphone 5 and finally a post about the anatomy of those talks!:)

    • Paul says:

      I think that our most popular technology speaks volumes about our cultural values.

      Why do people care about phones? They value mobility, social connectivity, and simplicity. Any meaningful discussion will eventually touch on those points, and the technology that develops in the next 5-10 years will be a natural extension of those values. We may begin to shift away from mobile computing in its current paradigm (hand-held devices) and perhaps towards wearable computers (a la Google Glass, or the “Sight” concept video that was released a number of weeks ago).

      Ultimately, designers will take their cues from what our society tells them is important. Our job is to hang on for the ride.

  6. As a fifty-something, I don’t get the hype. I prefer to TALK on my cell phone instead of keying cryptic text only those in the know would know. I refuse to abbreviate, and prefer the flow of FULL words, with all their rhythm and emotion. I also like to respond with a full-sized keyboard. It pains me to receive an email sent from a brilliant person from their iPhone with misspellings and, what appears to be, gibberish written by a third grader. However, my teenaged daughter has forced me kicking and screaming into the text world, and there is something to be said for its mobile immediacy. When my current contract is up, I may act in a lemming-like way and follow the crowd to the i-5 ……………….. again, kicking and screaming. From a non techy, good post and congratulations!

    • Paul says:

      Thanks!

      Your point is well-taken, but I’d like to take this opportunity to parse your thoughts, as I see them, into two distinct arguments. The first is the perceived correlation between increased mobile device usage and language “degradation”, and the second is, as you call it, the “immediacy” of the mobile experience.

      I think the equation of mobile communication and poor grammar is a sign that our language is still alive. The argument that language is falling apart is an old one. Languages that HAVEN’T changed have actually ended up dead (The Unfolding of Language, Guy Deutscher).

      The next point, the immediacy of mobile, is more nuanced. For some, that immediacy is jarring or invasive. For others, it simply gives them a broader and more diverse set of tools to tackle the important things in their lives. Communication, apprehension of information, and the agility to pivot based on the aforementioned qualities CAN be enhanced, but only if the user is able and willing to make use of a new set of tools.

      • I KNOW you didn’t write your reply on an iPhone — no abbr. or missp. I’m just an old fart trying to wade through this choppy sea of technology. I will say, however, you’d have to shoot me first for me to give up my Kindle. Maybe I’m not that old.

  7. letsgodownttown says:

    Oh come on! A Galaxy 3 or Sony Experia S slays the iPhone 5 on specs and performance.. All the Apple has is its fading hipster cache.

    • Paul says:

      That’s exactly my point–specs don’t matter anymore. What’s the overall experience? How does the user feel?

      Saying “This one goes to 11″ is no longer a selling point. What do the numbers mean? The OSs are different, each employing its own lexicon. A person using the phone isn’t actively thinking about how many clock cycles are required to display his or her photos on the screen, nor how much RAM the phone has.

      For this same reason, users who played the “spec game” have, for years, experienced the distinct dichotomy between the numbers on the box, and how it feels to use it. Manufacturers have also been gaming that system for years.

      I would argue that specs matter in servers and supercomputers, but with little else.

  8. inukshuk says:

    Quite true for most of the media reactions indeed, but for my part I yawn simply because it is yet another release of a product that is hopelessly expensive and for which I don’t really see any need. I’m sure it’s nice, and fast, and user-friendly, and the greatest smartphone ever, sure.

    I just don’t get the hype. If you need a phone and have money to spare, ok, go ahead and buy one, why not ? For my part, I’ll stick to my good old Nokia dumb-phone (with its great user experience) to call or text my friends. Which is more than enough to arrange a meet and talk face to face.

    I’d rather do my best to be smart myself, and let my phone just be… a phone.

    I guess I’m just old.

    • Paul says:

      No, your approach is exactly right. You, like the man who has eaten 10,000 McDonald’s Big Mac sandwiches, have found something that enriches your life in exactly the ways you need it to. Your needs aren’t mine, nor are my needs my friend’s.

      I’m not arguing that everyone needs to rush out and and purchase an iPhone. The “yawn” factor comes from too much anticipation. People do this with lots of things–events (my birthday is coming up! I hope it’s really great!), feelings (I want the moment to be PERFECT), food (oh man, that looks AWFUL). Ultimately, they end up disappointed because they’ve envisioned something that isn’t there, judged it before it is immediately present to them, and, when it is present, they dismiss it because it’s old hat.

      Ultimately, my argument has ALWAYS been that good tech should augment and support your lifestyle, not hinder it. Naturally, there are times when learning new things is healthy, but difficult. In these cases, maybe a smartphone can help make your life better, but only you can be the judge of that.

  9. segmation says:

    Your blog is too funny. I wonder how many cubbys were in line to today to get their new iPhone! http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  10. Thank you! Now I can explain why I prefer my iPhone even if I can’t boast about its technical superiority.

  11. madhaus7 says:

    This was entertaining and humorous. I think it should be a known fact that the iPhone is the superior smart phone. It’s not a debatable matter and it’s not any hint of superiority, (I own an iPhone) it’s just simply the most user-friendly and reliable software out there. End of story. I liked your comparison of Apple yawners to Cubs fans. Well played and great post.

  12. Jareen Imam says:

    I love that you write about how when we are younger we try to approximate how something new will impact our lives. It really made me think about the things I wanted when I was younger and the things I look forward to now, i.e. new tech gadgets that aren’t that different from the previous tech gadgets I got a few months prior… Thanks for the thoughtful post!!

  13. eof737 says:

    I haven’t fallen for the iPhone yet as I’m fine with my BB (a dying brand yes)… One day maybe! Congrats on being FP! :-)


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