IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Buying into phone marketing hype

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 16, 2013

It has become something of a yearly tradition: Apple releases a new iPhone and then the Internet would erupt into fierce, deeply personal, borderline religious arguments about whether the phone is bad or is the greatest thing ever to have happened to the human race.

And ever since Google's Android emerged as a viable alternative phone religion, the fight has been getting even fiercer. It's like you could not go to a tech website this week without finding someone swearing at a stranger on the Internet.

This week, after Apple released the iPhone 5C and the 5S, the comment war on various sections of the Internet has reached something of a fever pitch.

On one side are the Apple haters, who say the new iPhones are awful on account that they didn't really change anything except make a plastic version and add a bunch of different colours.

The iPhone 5C - whose name was no doubt inspired by Singapore's own 5Cs - has been compared to Crocs footwear, accused of copying Nokia's design and also of borrowing the colour scheme used by the Power Rangers.

Online videos have been shared widely with people mocking iPhone fans for being duped into buying the same phone twice.

In retaliation, the iPhone evangelists point out that Apple has actually changed a lot about the iPhone this round including adding a fingerprint sensor to the more expensive model and revamping the entire operating system.

On top of that, they helpfully point out that Apple is almost the godfather of smartphones and all those Android phones are merely copying what Apple invented. They see no need to add a bunch of gimmicky features that no one is going to use anyway.

The Apple way is to perfect something before they release, not to use the user base as guinea pigs.

"What about Apple maps? Are you idiots forgetting that?" the haters ask.

Apple supporters reply: "Is that the only thing you idiots can come up with? Last year's misstep?"

And then the whole comment thread devolves into name calling that cannot be published in a family newspaper.

Some of you may think I am joking, but there are people out there who have already put down their iPads or Android tablets in a huff upon reading the first few paragraphs of this column, and are right now typing out an angry e-mail to me pointing out how incredibly boneheaded I am to even dare suggest that there might be something less than perfect about their smartphone.

Or maybe they won't write in just right now, but I swear that by the end of this column about not taking phone insults too personally, there will be people writing me hatemail defending their phone company of choice and calling me names.

The question I have is: Why do smartphone choices elicit such strong reactions from people?

You hardly hear anyone get into a heated discussion over what brand of vacuum cleaner is better.

"This one has eight-cylinder super micro-suction technology. Your vacuum cleaner company has only six-cylinder micro suction. That's lame."

Apparently, a key reason for this is marketing. Phone companies have very cleverly marketed their companies and their products as being very personal items with a distinct personality.

As such, they have convinced consumers that when they choose a phone, it is not enough to consider its quality, price and features.

Now, you need to think about whether it is compatible with your personality, maybe you might even want to introduce it to your parents before you sign the two-year contract for it.

It's gotten to a stage where some firm stereotypes have begun to form in people's minds about what sort of person would pick a Samsung phone over an iPhone or vice versa.

For instance, people in general have come to believe that if they buy an iPhone, it means they are a cooler-than- thou free spirit who refuses to conform to trends and has quirky, unique tastes - even if they are using a super-common phone that cannot be customised.

On the other hand, people who buy an Android phone think it means they are a cooler-than-thou free spirit who refuses to conform to trends and has above average tech skills - even if they spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to change their wallpaper.

These messages have been propagated so successfully that most people are now able to make some judgment about someone else purely from the smartphone they have chosen.

It's almost like how people think they can sort of learn something about you from whom you have chosen to marry.

It is this very close personal relationship that a person has with his phone that causes so many to take criticisms about phone hardware as a personal insult.

When someone says that the new iPhone is bad, it's as if they had just told someone that he has an ugly baby.

But really, it doesn't have to be this way. A phone is purely as much an extension of you as a vacuum cleaner is.

Pick up a phone on the street and I swear you will struggle to figure out anything about its owner other than that the person has been somewhat careless.

And while I know that most people intellectually understand that they shouldn't be personally offended, they can't help having an emotional response.

You really can't judge a person based on what sort of iPhone they have.

Unless of course, they have an iPhone 5C because that phone is ugly.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 16, 2013

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