Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apple and the iPhone 5

Recently, The Molitor, a self proclaimed Apple zealot, posted a brief treatise on what makes the iPhone, and Apple products in general, great, and I feel the need to rebut.  If you don't want to take the time to read his position, it can essentially be summarized as 'they make pretty products'. Never mind the fact that Apple just sued Samsung, claiming that the Galaxy SII was designed so that it was indistinguishable from the iPhone to the layman.

To provide full disclosure, let me just say that Apple makes fine products, I personally have owned 2 ipods for several years, and for a while owned some Apple stock and sold it for a tidy profit.  Had I held onto it longer, I would like the company a whole lot more. Apple is a well run company and does a lot of things well.  Their forte is in user interface.  For years they have designed their products in a way that they are easier to use than a majority of their competitors, and I will readily admit that my android phone has room to improve in this area - some things are more difficult to do than they should be.  Apple is also second to none in marketing.  There is a well known proverb 'a fool and his money are soon parted', and nobody does a better job of separating fools from their cash than Apple. Time and again, Apple has taken existing products and ideas, repackaged them and slapped an Apple logo on them, and convinced a large portion of the populace that it was their idea.  Even a former Apple executive admitted as much, saying that, "Apple haven't invented anything."

That brings me to what I don't like about Apple, beginning with the legion of cult members. For example, when Apple released the white iPhone 4, the fanboys fell all over themselves lining up to get in line to throw their money at Apple, proclaiming the company execs to be geniuses for inventing the color white.  Example #2: Jimmy Kimmel recently took to the street to gauge public response to the iPhone 5.  He showed people the iPhone 4S, told them it was the iPhone 5, and they predictably fawned over how much faster it was, how it was lighter weight, how much better the display was, etc.

In general, Apple customers are the epitome of conspicuous consumption, however rather than buying Apple products to display wealth (as is the dictionary description), they buy them to convey status.  They feel that owning the latest Apple product somehow makes them cool, little knowing that it makes them a laughingstock.

I'm not one to let the opinion of others to influence my decision, so I'll continue.  I dislike Apple's restrictive environment.  Users are restricted in what they can do with the products they own, and developers are handcuffed with what they are allowed do do with apps.  This is exactly the thing that opened the door for Microsoft to dominate them in the PC market, and has opened the door for Google to walk through in the phone and tablet market.  Unless Apple learns from past mistakes, they will continue to see their market share erode.  But I digress, my point is that not only do several existing Android and Windows Mobile phones sport superior specs, but they allow you the freedom to do more with your device. I realize that this is a point of preference, as many people would sacrifice performance for usability, but I am very much a utilitarian, and being able to do more and do it faster is more important to me.

This leads me to my next issue: an inability to keep pace in performance has led Apple to become incredibly litigious.  Their answer to eroding market share, rather than create better products, has been to sue everyone in sight.  They recently won a decision against Samsung, which most experts agree will probably be overturned or significantly reduced upon appeals, but more importantly will undoubtedly set off a chain reaction of retaliatory and pre-emptive lawsuits, all to the detriment of the consumer.  Yes, I absolutely believe that Apple should have the right to defend it's patents, and to some degree I believe that this is more an issue with the horribly broken patent system which will issue a ridiculous patent for a rectangular shape with curved corners. Mark Cuban has written extensively and more eloquently than I could regarding patent law, so I won't waste time duplicating efforts. My point is that this spate of lawsuits will reduce competition in the industry and increase the cost of products.  The big loser will be consumers.  There is a well written editorial here, and I couldn't state it any better than this:
In the end, consumers will lose. Companies high and low are scrapping potentially amazing product ideas right now for fear of legal retaliation. Not just from Apple -- this ruling is way, way bigger than that -- but from any company with a patent on [insert obscure shape here]. I hope we're happy.
The lawsuit against Samsung was primarily fueled by Steve Jobs' insane ego, so I hope that with Tim Cook now in charge, perhaps cooler heads will prevail, however I fear that Pandora's box is now open and can't be closed again.

Again, full disclosure: I currently own a Motorola Droid Bionic.  I'm happy with it, but would have preferred the Samsung Galaxy SII if only it were available from Verizon.  Prevously I owned a Samsung Omnia (Windows Mobile), and prior to that a Motorola Razr.  I believe that Samsung currently makes the highest quality phones, and will look had at their products when it comes time for me to upgrade.  I'm currently irritated that Google has gone out of their way to make it difficult to sync android phones with Outlook, so I will also look hard at Windows Mobile phones next time around.  What I will not look at, however, is an iPhone.  For me, Apple's phones are inferior to those of their competitors, and while I know they meet the needs of a lot of people, they fall short of my what I'm looking for.

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