Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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iPhone year

1352 words

I said it before that personally I am not in the market for an iPhone. It’s a very sophisticated and expensive toy. And it comes with crippling contracts the monthly costs of which exceed what I expect to spend on mobile telephony in a year. As I am neither particularly keen on getting more Apple hardware (the items I get usually break sooner rather than later, necessitating more repair effort and worries than I am happy with), nor am I happy in shoving money up big corporations’ butts (no matter whether the corporation in question is a phone company or Apple), the iPhone was clearly a no go area for me. And I’ll stick with the cheapskates until the fancy phones improve their pricing or money becomes a non-issue.

But still, I thought that the iPhone was a great thing because it seriously kicks the other phone companies’ butts. Not because of the hype-machine that Apple unleashed but because – ignoring Apple’s intentional crippling of the device for the moment – the iPhone manages to pack plenty of hardware goodness (slow phone + wireless networking + reasonable battery life + touchscreen) and clean software (web browser, iPod, Address Book) into a single package. Despite being in exactly the same market and presumably having a decade of additional experience there, all other phone manufacturers apparently completely failed to even consider doing this. Instead – year after year – they offered phones with more colourful icons, more buttons and even more submenus. And now they feel like they have to catch up.

As a consequence new phones with touch screens are starting to appear here and there. Some of them may even not be butt ugly. But it definitely feels like the other companies are merely trying to copy the iPhone. And I assume that – as usual – they are copying the superficial looks rather than the entire design.

And then there are the ads. While Apple’s Mac vs. PC ads may be quite funny, I disapprove of their sneering attitude. Sure, PC users are poor sods and they deserve any pain they get into because of their bad taste. But still, making fun of them isn’t the thing to do. Not only that but it just makes people wait for something going wrong on Apple’s side to have a laugh. In my opinion Apple is in no position to take such a stance anyway as they weren’t able to deliver me a single piece of hardware that didn’t break at least once in this millennium, so the laughs should be on them anyway. But even if Apple were in such a position, I’d much rather behave well and exercise ‘good taste’. In fact, a decade ago when that Kawasaki guy was still ‘evangelising’ for them, I think this motto of not sneering on other people’s misery was still communicated by Apple themselves, even though the word karma may have been involved back then.

That much for Mac vs. PC. The iPhone ads are a completely different game, though. Those are ads which simply show the toy itself. They show it in use. Of course those use cases have been beatified for the ads, but people (usually iPhone customers, so we may need to take that with a grain of salt) say that it does give a reasonably correct impression. Heck, those ads may be thirty seconds of your life not wasted in complete vain but actually containing a little information. Which has become rare in commercial breaks.

Now compare that to the so-called competition. For example Samsung who seem to cross-market a phone with Armani. As far as I am informed, Armani make clothes and if you have too much but not really much money you’ll be inclined to buy their stuff if you care for a bit of posing. And – correct me if I’m wrong – such clothes are usually marketed not by showing what they look like in a way that you can see they are well-made, good looking or comfortable. Rather, they just use their brand name together with some good looking or downright hot girl and/or guy in interesting lighting. Whether or not you are able to see the actual goods in those shots seems secondary. It’s more about the ‘atmosphere’ or thinking along the lines of ‘wearing $brandname appeals to hot chicks’ or ‘wearing $brandname makes me look like well-built model’, I guess.

And it appears that the Armani people now try to sell a friggin’ mobile phone in the same way:

Armani phone ad on the back of a magazine

As I suppose that the MBAs running those companies love their ‘bonuses’, we have to fear that these ads actually work. Probably tells you a bit of the target audience’s smartness. At least they don’t care about whether or not the damn toy actually works. After all it has Armani written on it, so it has to be great. Right?

It seemed to be the season for such ads when I came across them (around christmas) and the same magazine also contained one by Bang & Olufsen. The stakes are a bit higher there as B&O have a history of clean and innovative design of technical devices. [I could write another post of my opinions about some of their products. But generally I’d say their design went downhill around the time they introduced the remote with the coloured buttons in the mid 1990s. They seem to have moved from a more design oriented stance to one of creating the dernier-cri stuff that’s needed by Wallpaper readers at that stage. But at least they have a telly now that can be used as a bookshelf…]

And B&O advertise a phone as well. I find that it looks quite ridiculous on the photo. Their web page for it even starts with mindless bullshit like Two icons of excellence come together in Serenata, a music player and mobile phone in one. and a look at the phone’s web site will bring you claims that the phone has a touch screen but its web site (straight from Flash hell, naturally) doesn’t actually stress how that is used. At least that fancypants toy brings some new-ish ideas. To begin with, they nicked the iPod’s clickwheel. It looks like a proper wheel that physically rotates like the original iPod’s not that touch sensitive crap Apple put in iPods since the 2nd generation. I really do wonder how tricky it is to actually dial a phone number that way… even to me – the slowest under-60 SMS writer in the world –  writing a five character text message looks very slow on their site.

B & O Phone ad from a mazagine

What I really do like about that design is that they put the screen beneath the controls. For many years now I thought that with screens becoming larger phones tended to have tiny keypads crammed beneath them which – in my average size hands anyway – makes them unnecessarily hard to use single-handedly. If you want to be able to reach the keys with your thumb while the phone is resting in your hand you may have to move it quite high up. So high that it doesn’t rest in your hand by itself but that you need to actually hold it, so it doesn’t tip over. I always thought that simply putting the keys above the screen might solve this for good. It’d put the keys in a comfortable position and you’d cover surprisingly little of the screen with your fingers while using the keys. It appears that people at B&O had a similar idea when they came up with this design.

That said, I doubt that the toy is much good as they fail to show anything amazing in both their print ads and their web site. And just the fact that the device is made by two companies together raises fears on how well it will actually work. Having the philosophies and designs of two companies clash in such a project could lead to rather painful results. Not that I’d be in the market for this toy, but it’s still a shame…

February 22, 2008, 9:25

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