The smartphone schism: Apple shakes up phone world, again

Posted on September 26, 2012 in Henry's Head, Perspectives
By Andrew Henry

Andrew Henry | The Free Press

With the official announcement of the iPhone 5 during Apple’s Sept. 12 press event, the technology world is flooded with excitement, but for every thousand people who buy one, there’s at least one who steps back and surveys what the iPhone has done to the masses. This time around, it’s me. There was a time when I used to want an iPhone more than anything, but now it’s more interesting to me to stand back and watch the people flock to Apple stores nationwide. With the announcement of the new iPhone 5, there’s no better time to talk about the smartphone scene.

During the Sept. 12 conference, Tim Cook, also known as the guy who replaced Steve Jobs, explained that this iteration of the device will have a larger 4-inch screen, faster processor, upgraded camera and blacked-out body shell. The iPhone 5, this year’s most anticipated smartphone, sold out its first pre-orders in one swift  hour, vastly trumping the 22 hours it took the pre-orders for the iPhone 4S to sell out last year. Prices start at: $who cares.00, you’ll get one anyway.

Apple’s technology announcements have become a landmark event for the technology world, occurring a few times a year, the conferences showcase the iPhone and iPod, laptop and iPad ranges. One of the reasons that Apple products are so wildly successful is because of the hype. Apple knows how to create serious amounts of hype when a product announcement is on the horizon, and their fans follow suit. Apple gave as little information about the iPhone 5 as was possible, making the official announcement that much more exciting.

Why is Apple so successful, though? Why is it that they move products in such vast quantities compared to other major brands in the technology sphere? My answer: Apple is a master of marketing and has been for quite some time now. Apple is a runaway success is because they pride themselves on being different from other brands like Samsung and Sony. There’s a distinctive look to Apple products, with the white or black color scheme and the streamlined design features. The iPhone, iPod and iPad are all ludicrously stylish machines, and they’re the tech of choice for celebrities. Add to that a colossal amount of customization options, and you’ve got a machine that can be suited to each individual user.

Another huge selling point with the iPhone is the idiot-proof user interface, something that I have a large amount of personal experience with. I’ve had an iPod touch for over a year and an Android smart phone that was purchased a month ago. The software for Android smartphones was developed by Google and is Apple’s biggest software competitor. The biggest difference between Apple and Android, hands down, is the user interface. The iPod UI is incredibly user-friendly and easy to customize. The options are laid out in a logical manner and are easy to find. The reason that so many people are “Apple faithful” has a lot to do with the UI. Apple hasn’t changed the basic structure of the touch interface, sticking with the simple rounded-corner app and 4 by 16 grid of selectable apps since it’s inception in 2007.

This consistency makes the iPhone a reliable choice, something that can’t necessarily be said of Android smartphones. The iPhone is Apple’s only phone making it, by default, the flagship. Android phones don’t have one designated flagship phone, so searching for an Android smartphone to choose can be a hassle. There are standouts, for sure, such as the Samsung Galaxy and the HTC Evo or One series, but because brands like LG and Motorola are also vying for the top handset spot among critics and users, Android as a brand ends up competing against itself, dividing sales.

Android updates its UI at an inconsistent rate, with gaps between updates ranging from a few months to almost a year. Since Android 1.0 came out in 2008, it has undergone eight significant updates that have completely re-tooled the user interface with less-experienced users having to re-learn the software altogether. As an Android phone user myself, I did find it harder to adjust to after years of using an iPod, but I think there’s a lot more depth to Android than Apple’s touch interface. Many think that Apple’s interface is too simplistic and doesn’t allow enough user customization. Android has the benefit of widgets, like a weather and clock icon, that break up the sea of apps on the screen. Honestly, I find myself wishing that Apple did the same.

All of the benefits of Apple and Android are also points of contention within the technology community. Smartphone users get defensive about their brand bias. Before the iPhone 4 (which saw a radical design change) hit stores in 2010, the iPod touch and iPhone family looked almost identical for three straight years. Other than hardware updates, the first three generations of iPhones looked startlingly similar, warranting a slew of criticisms that Apple’s designers were “lazy.” With Android, many people love the updates in the user interface, a welcome change by the majority of smartphone users. The user interface Android phones is updated about once a year, and older smartphones like the original Droid Incredible are still being updated as well. Others like the variety within the looks of Android phones, giving each phone a style that is different than the one next, whereas Apple is stuck with one, “love it or hate it” design. Both Apple and Android could learn a lesson from one another.

But the caveat about Apple in particular is how polarizing they are to the public. For many, Apple is a divisive company, and I’ve met very few people indifferent about Apple the technology titan. They have caused a serious dichotomy among smartphone users. Apple recently won a billion dollar patent lawsuit against Samsung and is seeking to have 8 Samsung devices banned from the market. This has not only tarnished Samsung’s reputation, but is a turning point in the mobile device patent wars between Apple and other companies like Motorola. Some people belong to the iPhone party, others say it’s just a re-hashed version of last year’s product like “shining a turd.” Well this turd has over 140 million total sales. Any way you cut it, Apple is doing something right, because the phones actually do sell themselves.

I used to purchase strictly Apple products because that’s what I was used to buying, and it became a routine of sorts. But after getting an Android smartphone, I’m absolutely on the fence. I actually like having both types of software, a stance that seems rare within the technology world. Apple products have their own unique benefits, but so do Android ones as well. I love Apple products–yes, it’s true, but it’s not the reason I get up in the morning. The same can be said for my Android smartphone as well. There is one thing, though, that all cell phone lovers can agree on: we love technology, but we don’t love the same technology.