We find ourselves living in a great age of mobile electronics and technology. Choices abound in terms of devices, operating systems, apps, you name it. There is so much choice available to us as mobile consumers that is boggles the mind. You think to yourselves just ten years ago, give or take, smartphones were nothing more than a twinkle in a blackberry’s eye. And I have to ask myself, “are we better off?”
I’m a Ted-head. A Tedder. A Teddite. I’m not even sure there is a name for people like me, but what I’m getting at here is that I enjoy the website ted.com. Their tag line, “Ideas worth spreading”, is a call for cutting edge thinking, whether it’s in the field of philosophy, technology, electronics, anthropology, you name it. I particularly enjoy the series of cool videos called “Ted-talks”. And one such Ted-talk came to my attention and it reminded me very much of the mobile technology landscape as we see it today.
Paradox Of Choice
Barry Schwartz gave a talk entitled “The Paradox of Choice” (sourced below) in which he outlines how, in modern western society, there is a major push toward choice, which leads to freedom, which leads to welfare. Bear in mind this is not welfare as in collecting money from the government welfare, but welfare as in a contented state of being. Dr. Schwartz puts forth an argument that in today’s society, there is such a push for choice, that freedom and welfare are crippled by the sheer amount of choice at our disposal. Such an overwhelming amount of options can, instead of providing freedom, paradoxically paralyze a consumer into making no choice at all or at the very least decrease the enjoyment of what would otherwise be considered a great choice. And when it comes to mobile technology, I can’t say he’s entirely wrong.
Last week I wrote that I was growing weary of OEMs and the constant compromise offered by the various major players of operating systems out there, and I think that Dr. Schwartz’s theory could be applied to the choice between iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Each of these operating systems are great in their own right. iOS bring it’s plethora of apps and sheer simplicity. Android is the ultimate in customizable layouts, home screens and widgets. Windows Phone is a solid middle ground with customizable live tiles and simplicity in user experience.
Similarly, all of these operating systems have their flaws. iOS and Windows Phone still haven’t gotten notifications really right. Android can be confusing and forces you to micromanage your phone and apps. Windows Phone’s app catalog is borderline laughable compared to the other two.
To a new user coming to the smartphone marketplace, choosing between these three options can be daunting. And we’re not even factoring in Blackberry, or any of the other new competitors coming down the pipeline in the future. A new smartphone user might look at all of these choices and ultimately decide not to choose and instead opt for the latest Pantech flipper that just came out. It’s not hard to see that happening.
Options, Options, Options Abound!
Having multiple major players in the smartphone market offers great opportunities for innovation and competition – to push the envelope. But while these manufacturers do just that, they can really make consumers sweat when it comes down to ultimately choosing a platform and slapping down some hard-earned dinero and signing on the dotted line. I know if I were not me, and I was not in the profession I am in, I would find it exceedingly difficult to choose from one of these three platforms. And even when I did, Dr. Schwartz argues that the satisfaction of that choice can be diminished because of the other available options. My ultimate happiness and welfare in my decision could be diminished because of the roads not taken.
Of course these theories aren’t meant to be applied to individuals. This is meant to be representative of a society as a whole. Most of our readers have adopted a platform and many have not looked back, nor questioned their decisions one iota. Some would say that Dr. Schwartz’s theories only apply to the weak-minded or the whiny, and I frankly cannot disagree.
But even I find myself waffling between two of the three platforms even today. Like my colleague, Michael Fisher, I could rightly claim the title of “Captain Two-Phones” (well, maybe more like a Sergeant) because I too carry around a Samsung GSIII and a Nokia Lumia 900. If forced to choose one right now, in a do-or-die type scenario, I cannot rightly say which one I would go with. I find myself paralyzed by my freedom, which is the ultimate irony.
A Happy Medium
Toward the end of the video, (which for what it’s worth, I recommend watching, assuming you can get past his pomposity and I’m-a-college-professor-so-you-must-listen-to-me attitude), Dr. Schwartz does indicate that there is a point at which some choice is better than both no choice and abundant choice. Three players in the mobile space might very well be that ideal sweet spot. Certainly less would probably not drive innovation as far as fast, and more would almost certainly give even the heartiest mobile tech enthusiast pause.
Overall, I feel the choices we have in the mobile industry can be overwhelming, especially for a newcomer. “This phone does this and that, but not this and this phone does this and that, but not this…” It can be downright unsettling. But at the same time, we’re not talking about 175 different salad dressings here. The operating systems themselves can be complex, but it can generally be said that there isn’t much one OS can do that the others can’t, so it all comes down to the interface and the user experience and user preference. And having three choices can’t be all that bad. Can it?