I was having one of my rare introspective moments the other day when I suddenly realized something. This is something that has been building for quite some time. It has also been expressed by a number of technology folk I interact with. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, not exactly boredom, but it’s definitely a feeling of discontent with the mobile industry.
Everywhere you look in the mobile industry in 2013 there is nothing but compromise. Every phone has some sort of trade-off. You can have this, but not this. You can have that, but not that. Pretty much every phone out there has some sort of baggage attached to it that makes it undesirable in one way or another. No manufacture seems willing nor able to bring a true superphone to the table. Everyone is trading off and hurting their product because of it.
Let’s take a look at the flagship products that are out there.
Line ‘em Up
Apple and the iPhone have one screen size – small. Ok, small-ish. Take it or leave it. They also have an app launcher model that’s very rigid and structured and, frankly, plain. There are no other options in the iOS line except old phones. I guess that’s ok, but we’re fast moving into a world where 4” is just too small.
Windows phone and Nokia are bringing the Lumia 920 to the table. The lack of removable storage, removable battery, and let’s be realistic – app ecosystem is too limiting on a flagship phone. Granted the app ecosystem is hardly Nokia’s fault. I have argued vehemently in the past that Nokia far and away have done the most of any OEM to attract app development. But the other compromises are still there.
Switching over to Android, there are two major players in that particular market – Samsung with their GS4 and HTC with the One. The One has the solid body, sturdy build and premium materials, but what is the common complaint? The camera. Listed as Good-but-not-great, the 4 UltraPixel toy is a pretty big short coming. It also lacks the same removable battery and SD card as the Lumia. While it’s true that there are very valid reasons (as argued by some of our own staff) as to why those features are not as important as they seem, my philosophy is and always has been, “It’s better to have it and not need it.”
The Galaxy S4 is probably my gold medal winner in this year’s Mobile Games (though Apple hasn’t brought out their latest athlete just yet). The SD storage combined with Android’s ability to manipulate the phone’s file system and the software camera features bring a strong contender to market. But even the GS4 totes along some compromise baggage to this flight with dated design language and a cheap plastic feel (building materials and durability aside, it feels cheap). Internally though, the GS4 is a premium device, but Samsung should have addressed those the design/build issues before expecting people to fork over $249 and two years of their mobile lives – not to mention unsubsidized prices elsewhere.
Coming From A Broken Home
Try to understand, I grew up on Palm/webOS. Compromise was a necessary part of the vocabulary, along with “stacks”, “OTA”, and “the coming months”. Sure there weren’t apps. Sure you had to deal with a boatload of forehead slaps along the way. But that’s what came from the love of the platform, the little engine that it turns out really couldn’t.
But we’re sitting at the big boy table now, people. Apple, Samsung, Nokia, HTC, you’re all using mature platforms here (Windows Phone being arguably the least mature, but still mature). I’ve sadly left webOS phones (not tablets mind you) behind for greener pastures and what I found when I got here was…more compromise.
I suppose I’m a victim of my own expectations. Sitting out in that webOS pasture, I saw all these pretty phones, and pretty apps, and pretty commercials, and I dreamed of bigger and brighter things. And indeed, in many way, these platforms do deliver bigger-than-webOS and brighter-than-webOS quality. But if webOS is your bar, you’re still competing in the junior leagues. I don’t want better-than-webOS. I want perfect. I jumped ship for you people, and you’re still letting me down.
The Bottom Line
Just once, I’d like to see a manufacturer not cut corners. I’d like to see them build a truly quality device that feels great in the hand, looks great on the table, takes high quality photos and video, has a distinctively beautiful UI, and a ton of great software features, and darn it makes people on the street turns their heads and say, “Ohhhh.” Perhaps in a future piece, we’ll examine just what a “Perfect” phone looks like – Hardware, software, etc. You know, since that topic hasn’t been done to death yet.
Sadly, the world is ruled by the bottom line. And the market is so saturated with choices, that “great” is no longer required. Good enough is what’s on the menu these days. Even greatness can go largely unrecognized if the moneyisn’t there or if it doesn’t have the right logo on the back of it, or if it’s promoted by a freaky pale chick that haunts Satan’s nightmares. And so manufacturers shoot for good enough and call it a day. They compromise and save 16 cents per unit by using plastic instead of polycarbonate and then mark the darn things up by 300% anyway.
Image Source: TechnoBuffalo