If smartphone manufacturers want to make money on us, then they need to create even more magical devices or figure out how to 'spice up' them with glitter and pretentiousness …
Of all the weird things I've accumulated over the years, the dumbest collection in my closet is a box of old mobile phones. My reasoning was something like this: if my current smartphone crushes a bus, then I can always get one of these lovely 'oldies' and use it when necessary. Or if the apocalypse happens, then I can exchange one of them for food or water.
But in truth, I keep them because they mark the passage of time, being a less sentimental version of elementary school photo albums. And how often do we get the chance to document, on such a personal level, the rapid evolution of a given device?
When mobile phones first appeared, they were ephemeral attributes of status, accessories for celebrities and people who should be in touch at any moment. Their huge, brick-like form factor declared its own value: they all kind of drew attention to themselves, and various accessories for these devices were vulgarly scattered over the table of the caller or the dashboard of the car. My father, a doctor who needed to be in touch with the hospital, had such a giant phone, and all of us were strictly forbidden to touch the device. On the rare occasions when he used it, he counted every minute of use as if all the savings for our education were disappearing before his eyes.
But luxury is partly determined by scarcity. Little by little, phones became smaller and cheaper, and they could be seen more and more often in the hands of people around. Mobile phone ownership was no longer a privilege of an elected caste.
I got my first phone in 2001. Although there was nothing special about it, it was a magic contraption that fit in the palm of your hand and knew how to call. She also “could” – no, she couldn’t do anything else, just call. And, well, sending messages, but the process was extremely painful. Each button was responsible for three letters of the alphabet, and typing messages often took longer than it took.
That phone is now in the closet next to the device, which was purchased a few years after my move to France. It did not surpass the American phone in functionality, but it came with a pack of stickers, which, of course, survived (stickers are also part of my strategy for survival in the apocalypse). If not for the French brand, it would be extremely difficult to find the differences between these phones. Without a doubt, smartphones have gotten significantly faster and sleeker over the past three years, but ultimately they were just phones you could use on the go, useful and non-addictive devices.
In a similar vein, I cannot say that those early devices could tell anything about me other than my age and lack of interest in paying for a landline phone. The relatively low income may have affected, but these early devices did not seem to me to be the status symbols that their predecessors were at a time when mobile phones were rare. For me, those first mobile phones were bits of plastic and wires that helped me make calls from one place to another and had the same uniqueness as paper towels or USB drives.
Yet with the arrival of smartphones on the market, it seemed that everything would change. In one night, telephones again became significant status items.
In 2007, there was no longer a question of whether you had a phone, rather the interest was in what kind of phone you had. The choice of the device spoke a lot about a person and conveniently assigned a person to one category or another in terms of interests and wealth. iPhone in hand meant that you are not poor. BlackBerry – far from poor. Android – well, so-so. 'Clamshell' – are you serious?
But it wasn't just about wealth – your phone since 2007 has said a lot about your lifestyle. iPhone was the domain of the creative class. Users Android were tech geeks. The owners BlackBerry – still in existence – were men in tailored suits, scribbling angry, terse emails and possibly making inappropriate comments about the secretaries in the cafeteria at work.
Phones appeared for any purpose. In some parts of the world, theme telephones were popular. During my visit to Jakarta, I was able to buy a special edition of the device 'for women' – a pink smartphone shining with white plastic crystals. Then there was my dvuhsimochny phone, also a purchase from a business trip, he helped people from other operators to call me cheaper. And don't forget the prepaid phone that I had for all my personal calls in my early days of church membership of tin foil hats and paranoia about government surveillance.
All to the fact that ten years ago there were many different variants of phones and a lot of competition. We now take it for granted, but the touchscreen, app stores and fingerprint scanner were big breakthroughs in their day. Without them, phones would never have captured our lives or captured our attention. But today in the world, by and large, there are two operating systems – iOS and Android – and our phones look pretty much the same and do the same things. Millions of banknotes are poured into marketing campaigns, but most will not distinguish last year's iPhone from the new. Yes, there are also those who are interested in the annual announcements of the phones, those who will twist their hand so that you can consider their vintage watch from Cortébert, and those who, in spirit, will list the most important characteristics iPhone XS Max (512 GB own memory! 4 GB RAM! Resolution 2688×1242!).
Solarin Phone from Sirin Labs, $ 17,000
But for most of us, phones no longer feel like something special, like something worthy of the price tag. They don't even stand next to designer handbags or chic cars as status symbols. The black bar does not give off a godlike aura like Porsche or a Vuitton bag. Well, as a means of self-expression, they are not very good. Most phones come in several uniform colors and shapes.
There is a bigger problem that has nothing to do with the relative obscurity of smartphones: minor innovation. Year after year, loud and energetic commercials assure us to upgrade to the next version of the device. But what do we end up with other than a slightly improved screen and camera?
Honestly, I'm not trying to promote the idea of a new era in which people will wave their huge phones like cocaine-addicted bankers from the eighties. As a rule, it is good when technology falls into the hands of people. I believe phones have lost their differentiation. For users who love status symbols, they give very little physical difference. For those who are accustomed to approaching from the point of view of practicality and characteristics, the new items are just slightly modified versions of past models. If your phone works, then there is little reason to update it frequently.
Of course, recent research suggests that people update their devices much less frequently than before. Just as we saw the shift from big bricks to small clamshells, most people no longer see the phone as a sign of social superiority – just a set of plastic and wires that can do a number of things for them. If manufacturers want to make money on us, then they need to create even more magical devices or figure out how to 'spice up' them with glitter and pretentiousness. A giant phone to swim in. Or a smartphone that whispers compliments to us as we walk down the street. The phone that populates the world around with dancing ponies from augmented reality. Or an apparatus that acts as a Swiss knife in the event of the end of the world, which never ceases to excite me.
Until then, I'll stay with the phone I bought in 2017 until it breaks. I will spend money on things that actually show people my real face, like drinking raw water and raising chickens in my backyard. And when the phone breaks down, then I will act radically – I will be without it. Yes, of course, this is a symbol of the highest status – to be so superior to everyone that the very need to communicate with anyone disappears.
By Jessica Powell
It is clear that the author focuses on generally available models of an acceptable price range, but differentiation, apparently, is again becoming the lot of custom devices with premium body materials and so on. So either a great exterior or functionality and relatively low cost. What's going on in the market?
Manufacturers are racing to outdo each other, experimenting with cutouts, remembering and rethinking sliders, patenting folding screens, but at the same time, smartphone updates from generation to generation are purely cosmetic. This trend is more often seen on flagship devices, especially iPhone. And, of course, companies will never put up with the fact that users now buy new devices every two or three, or even five years, is unthinkable!
So maybe it is worth rethinking the approach? Give users meaningful innovation and compelling reasons to switch? Even I, a fastidious and meticulous user, quite assume that I go through another year with my OnePlus 5, until it breaks down or until, thanks to the karmic connection of situations, I become the owner of another smartphone. I don't see any sense in buying another smartphone at this stage, all scenarios are being worked out to the fullest, ergonomics are tested in comparison with many smartphones with 18: 9, visually pleasing, but nothing more. And it's not about money, if something hooks me, then the funds will be found. There is simply no real reason to upgrade.
It is likely that the technologies that will soon pour into the smartphone market as a river will launch a new round of development in the industry, in which smartphones will again regain the role of status items and will declare the originality and wealth of the owner. Or is the consumer already tired of these attempts to find a way to make smartphones even more expensive?