The smartphone market is changing

There has been a lot of news about Apple’s stock falling this week. Some celebrate that this spells the end of Apple and begins their downfall. Some are losing their hair over their stock value dropping like that. Some aren’t exactly caring about the whole deal, but find it interesting nevertheless. The thing is, when Apple became the first trillion dollar company, it got into a place where it shouldn’t been in the first place. Apple as a company isn’t exactly cutting edge.

The smartphone market is just like any other market out there. There will be market leaders with products that will be used more for a period of time before something else comes along and does things a little differently to cater to the new needs and wants of the consumer. The classic example of Facebook replacing MySpace is something that happens constantly, but the timescale with some products can be glacier. Sometimes the company that is replacing the product is doing it by themselves, like how Hasbro saw the falling sales of Transformers toys and relaunched the series with Beast Wars, which in all honestly saved the franchise. The reason why this worked was because from the mid 1980’s to late 1990’s the world experienced a kind of boom relating to land and sea animals. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was part of this green movement, where whales and dolphins got their share of newfound love. Seaquest DSV and the 1995 Flipper series hit this cultural consensus just the right way. The consumers wanted to have something different and there was need for innovation. Hasbro relaunched their money maker franchise and the rest is history.

Smartphone market is in a similar place at the moment. Apple beat Nokia by innovating the concept of the mobile phone by using existing ideas to make something new. Nokia had a chance to beat Apple, but they never launched the phone that would effectively been what the iPhone is, because the execs didn’t see a need to radically change their strategy. Execs tend to be rather rigid in their way of thinking in terms of products and the market, which is why the smartphone market currently sees very little to no innovation at the moment. Everything is incremental. The bezels are slightly thinner, screens are slightly larger (with a stupid notch there for whatever reason) and the usual tech advancements apply. Not many people are happy that the earphone jack, something that has been and still is a standard, has gone missing. In effect, there is really no reason to upgrade your phone if it’s not busted.

Apple’s innovation regarding iPhone has always been to stand on the shoulders of others. That’s completely normal for a tech company, though some would claim Apple didn’t exactly innovate while standing on those shoulders. Nevertheless, whatever Apple’s strategy is or was, it’s not working as intended. Falling sales can be directly related to the consumers being more or less full of Apple products and them not meeting the needs. Chinese competitors are producing phones that are simply better and have more style at a cheaper price, and don’t lock you to Apple’s own ecosystem, seem to have become more popular in Asia. Hell, in India Apple has only 1% market share, they just don’t jive with the wants of the consumers there.

The thing with Apple is that what they market first and most is lifestyle. This is somewhat ironic, as Steve Jobbs himself said something along the lines of When a company begins to market and stops innovating, it dies. That’s pretty much all Apple has going on for them at the moment. They are an alternative lifestyle company, offering inferior products to consumers who wish to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Apple’s device space is unbeatable currently, with all of their products existing in unison with each other, but outside that the hardware and software aren’t exactly the best possible. It’s sad to see the creative schools pushing for Macs, when the industries themselves use different system. Adobe works just as well on Windows as it does on Apple.

At some point Apple comes to a goal where they’ve reached their own market saturation and most people who can afford Apple  have entered the ecosystem. After that, sales will be harder to make and they have to make serious efforts to convince their customer to upgrade each device in the ecosystem. Hence, it’s not the best idea of put the blame of lack of sales and success on the consumer. Apple does offer some neat services and their personal security is top notch, but as said, the devices themselves haven’t exactly changed overall, and that applies to smartphones overall. At some point, the current paradigm is just driven to the ground and something else will come about. Apple has been toying with the watches and glasses, but they’re not what the consumers want.

That’s the crux of things really. A company can’t really blame on its consumers not wanting to upgrade if there is nothing new, no edge over the old stuff they already have. Innovation be damned, buzzword as it is, but none of these companies can ignore that the smartphone market is in a spot where things are becoming stagnant. What’ll be the next big thing is an open question, and very few people are even able to make an educated guess. Maybe we’ll get those flexible and bendable phones Nokia was talking about in 2008. Whatever it is, one can only hope it’ll be as massive paradigm shift that the smartphones were from their predecessors. Cleaning the slate does good at times.

Updating the build-in obsolescence

Sometimes I come across news that just feel stupid. Logitech announced that they will shut down all services for their Harmony Link, essentially bricking the device with an update. Why? Well, they’re out of certificate on technology that’s inside the lil’ smart device remote. This of course caused rather serious backlash on the usual Internet forums, to which Logitech responded that they’ll replace the obsoleted devices to a new one.

This is, sadly, par for the course in modern era. Licenses and certificates from every which way is being implemented in devices that are not though to last. Devices are not thought to last at all, with some companies expecting you to replace your phone yearly. Apple, for example, optimises all their latest updates to their newest models, the old ones be damned, meaning the old hardware gets sub-optimal OS update, which will cause things to slow down and requires more numbers to be crunched. Apple pulled back one of their iOS updates after they released it, as it made older systems inoperable due to inability to make phone calls or unresponsive fingerprint sensors.

Back in the day, obsolescence was designed in the product from the get go. Some film companies even wanted VCRs to wipe tapes slightly each time they were played. This meant, that after certain number of watches, the tape would be blank and the consumer would be forced to buy a new copy of the movie. Imagine if a DVD or Blu-Ray discs and their players would’ve been built so that after certain amount of watches, the player’s laser would burn a mark that would prevent any further playbacks. Apple’s products are full of planned obsolescence from hardware to software, with the customer being completely dependent on the company’s services when it comes to maintenance and repair.

While bricking updates are exactly nothing new, they’ve become more and more common at a steady pace. It has not been profitable to design and manufacture products that would last anymore. We have the technology to make phones and whatnot last a solid decade, but this would mean the companies wouldn’t get that steady stream of high revenue yearly. This may sound overtly dramatic or even anti-corporate, but this is more or less personal experience with numerous companies. The discussions I’ve had with professional from the industry who have worked in different fields of productions, from the cases to the software, all have said the same thing; it’s cheap. The outer shells cost barely anything to tool, the electronics manufactured and fabricated at a very low price in countries that don’t care about certain legislation issues, assembly is done in an area where pay is extremely low and people are prevented from doing suicides via nets. Shipping per unit costs absolutely jack shit, coding is done to drive the latest things up and probably is the second most costly bit after advertisement. It is the name that drives the price up. Hell, the lack of earphone jack and other physical properties in more modern phones nowadays is to drive the production price down while the sales price is jacked up.

The only thing that ultimately costs is the brand. iPhone X costs a thousand bucks to buy, and it has nothing to justify its price outside the Apple logo and branding. The profit margin is extraordinarily high. I won’t even try to calculate the production price, but a good guess would be that the production costs are hundreds times less than the final sales price. But hey, if people will pay for it, then that’s the rule of the market.

That veered a bit off the topic, but it’s relevant. The core problem in updated obsolescence is that it will be everywhere. Smart homes are not all that common nowadays, but the more we will have such devices on our homes, from freezers and microwaves to simple light switches. If any of these devices use similarly certified technology that has been essentially licensed from outside, they will face a kill-update. All these smart devices will contain programs and services, which the companies see as the main sales. From a company’s point of view, they’re not really selling you an item, but the service the item will enable. In this sense, the consumer is purchasing a long lasting license to their service via this device. From the customer’s point of view, they’re paying for a device that enables a function, like the smart device control with Logitech’s Harmony Link.

This disparity is clear in gaming as well, where companies and some consumers argue that nobody is purchasing anything anymore. Rather, you are subscribing to a service with one-time payment. However, nobody can come to your home and tell disable your games. Unless you’re using Steam.

If we’re to believe this tight device cycle will stay for the foreseeable future, it will also cause another issue to build up. Apple alone is responsible for a huge pileup of e-waste, and if we count all other electronics companies with similar pace of new product introduction, we’re getting large quantities of products that will not last long. Africa probably feels the brute of the hit from this, with tons of e-waste being dumped in Ghana’s landfills.

The first step to fight this cycle would be sustainable development and design. However, the core principle of sustainable design is against most corporate interests, as it dictates that a product should be designed to last as long as possible. However, a phone that would last a decade would not be as profitable compared to a phone that gets the shaft after two years.

Logitech’s response to the outcry of their kill-update isn’t any solution. The Harmony Link will become obsoleted not because the devices have broken, but because the company chooses to terminate its function. The action is not a solution, but a pathetic way to weasel out of it. This is not sustainable design.

I’m not an Earth hugging hippie by any stretch of the imagination you may get from this post, but sustainable development and design are two key factors that need to become more relevant as the time goes by. We only got one Earth, and seeing we’re not getting off this world any time soon, we should take better care of it.

The academic good

In school we’re taught how to write proper prose. The structure of the story, how the story should be told and so on. We’re taught by our peers and information sources what it means to have a good story, what it means to be well written and what interesting characters’ properties. Academically speaking, when you’ve got a product that ticks all the boxes correctly, it should be considered a perfect product. Things like three-act structure is an example of how to tell a story properly, but you’ve got all these things that break the act structure, sometimes completely ignoring the notion of having structured acts, only to be considered well done or even great.

We’re taught what it means to make a good product. We’re taught to criticise products based on similar notions of what is, academically speaking, good. You could have a list of matters that a story needs to tick off to be good. It’s sort of standardised version what is considered the ideal form.

This doesn’t really work in real life.

If products would always follow the same guidelines, we’d have no advancement in anything. Breaking the mould and finding the best ways to hit on with the customers seem have always given new and modified rules to the pre-existing academic sets.

Movies have academically set rules of tick boxes that a lot of reviewers tick in order to rate a movie. It’s a very clean and sterile way to see things, and often if something is not personally preferred is called as a inferior product because it does not fill the academic demands. The same can also be said of the crowd who argue for the break downs of the academics, and ultimately the decision is made by the consumer by their wallet voting.

Does that mean that the consumers have an awful taste, or that the academics do not apply or are wrong?

In design schools it’s often taught that finding a want and need of the customers is important, the academically correct thing to do, as the customer will always seek to fulfil their wants and fix their needs. I am an advocate of this to a very large extent. If we take the notion that the academics do not apply here, what does that mean for design?

What does design become when you break down the academics? Perhaps we need to turn the matter other way around and there would be a need to manufacture the demand and want. This is done in marketing based on existing customer needs, but at the same time it’s a very gray zone, and while taught to some extent, can be regarded as academically incorrect.

Yet, you have Apple manufacturing a product that we can argue customers do not have a need for or even want. Yet the notion of making something that customer would want by hitting the rights buttons create a need. Apple watch is an essentially a stripped down version of iPhones and iPads. How many of us have a need for a watch with computing capabilities? Vast majority of us have a some sort of smartphone in our pockets with all the things the Apple watch could do, and even more. Then you have the pads, which have become another common thing to carry around everywhere. There is no need for such a device that is, in all seriousness, inferior to the existing products. And yet, Apple has managed to manufacture a need for its loyal customers, and those who follow their example.

Apple watch has to have the worst battery life and the screen needs to be relatively large to include all the stuff they’re shoving into it.

In the same breath, is there a need for a new iPhone? Some would say yes, and some would say no. The iPhone line has been very much the same. The only thing that makes the previous version obsolete is that Apple will drop the support on relatively soon to move their efforts on supporting the shiny new one, which you should buy in order to keep yourself on the trend boat and get the best support out there.

But right here I am using the academics to criticize Apple’s products and how they are pushing them out, much like a person would voice their distaste on anything else.

A question if academics are absolute is moot. Of course they aren’t, but they are often regarded as such because they are very much rooted to our current society. They’ve been there in many forms for ages. The academic good is a way to standardise what is well made or what should be considered good and a way to make a successful product. Yet the notion is thrown right out of the window when you have a game breaking product that changes how things are made, writing a new text book example of good. Citizen Kane is an example alongside King Kong, where certain academics are simply shattered because they have not only become popular, but made money and made a cultural landmark.

In the two aforementioned case, does that mean that the customer has an awful taste? Does that mean that the academics need to be thrown out because they do not stand against the products that go against them due to their popularity? It’s not binary, no matter how you want to see it.

In linguistics, when a word has gained a new meaning among the population while having a different meaning the dictionary, it is the dictionary that needs to be changed as the meaning of the word has changed. Whilst computer’s first meaning was a person who computes, now the word is mainly, and often solely, used to describe the machine that accepts data and does computing and shows it.

Linguistics is academics, and we can all see that academics change with time as well. It is extremely easy to base our distaste on any product based on the academics, because often we don’t distinguish the two. We saw ourselves as being the ones correct over the other because we have the academics speaking behind us. Gene Siskel used academics to pan Friday the 13th and rightfully so, but was completely wrong as the movie became a massive success and didn’t fit into his view what a good movie is.

As said before, real life doesn’t really work like that.

We have the model what is perfect, and academically speaking, we should be able to make perfect things. Science is about perfection, the ability to replicate same results every time. Reality does not play all the same rules because humans are creatures of preference and disorder. We enjoy the things we do because there’s something we personally care for. We constantly elevate things over our heads despite them being academically bad and trample on things that should be considered good. Of course, it goes the other way around as well, but it’s never universal. There will always be people who dislike Plan 9 From Outer Space for its awful writing, acting and sets, and there will always be people who genuinely love the movie perhaps even for the very same reasons. We can only argue about that subjectively and academics are there to support the side that values it.

However, can we trust the academics when a product that goes against them becomes practically universally regarded as the best mode? Before the smartphone boom happened, they were not considered as the best form of mobile phone; they went against the academic model what a mobile phone should be. Then, somebody rebranded this into smartphone and created the demand. The academics changed and the phones that you can only call and text are considered as inferior products.

It smells like opinions, always. There are some things we can’t argue about, like that 2+2=4. We can argue whether or not Anna Karenina is deathly boring book with pages after pages of useless detail that should have been edited out. Tolstoy was one of the writers who are often used as an example of writing good prose. During Anna Karenina’s serialization in 1877, most reviewers praised the episodes, but there were few who criticised it being sour and smelling like narrow-mindness of the nobility with Slavophilism. I have to agree with the latter to some extent, but I would most likely prefer the book more if I had read it in a serial form like it was originally published as rather than a span of one week.

We end up with a core thing again; we can only argue about opinions. We can argue that being popular does not mean that it’s good, and to some extent that is true. The opposite is true as well. However, we always need to remember that nobody is willing to put large amounts of money into stuff they don’t consider to be good in their personal opinion. When majority regard the same thing as good, you usually get a whiplash from the minority.

VHS was a shit format compared to BetaMAX and Laserdisc, and yet it won because it was considered the better option over the two competitors.

The notion that popular does not equal good is a childish one. It implies two extremes which don’t exist. Is Justing Bieber a good singer? I don’t know, I have never heard any of his songs fully, but I recognize his success. Clearly he is doing a lot of things right in order to garner such a fame among people alongside his infamy. Is Patlabor the Movie good because it’s seen as one by the fans? Perhaps, but it’s a very niche movie with rather small userbase, and the movie can be damn boring, much like other Oshii’s movies. Giant Robot Police movies are such a niche genre, that only fans an occasional stranders will make a review mark of it on Rotten Tomatoes. On IMDB the Patlabor movie has votes from 2 860 users, whereas something like Jurassic Park has reviews from 409 551 users. The 1997 Titanic, the movie I personally don’t care for, has reviews from 601 309 users. We would need to do some serious work in order to properly compare the reviews between the three movies based on IMDB ratings. Is Patlabor a better movie than the Titanic because less people have given it a better rating? Is The Shawshank Redemption superior movie to all aforementioned because of its higher rating with 1 227 123 users backing it, or is it worse because it’s more popular?

Academically speaking all the aforementioned movies hit all the right points and should be considered as good movies. Because we’re largely dangling dolls, played by our preferences, we can voice that, for example, Jurassic Park is the best movie from the bunch because of reason X. Or that is has the most interesting writing that challenges the watchers’ notions of cloning, the nature of the relationship with man and nature as well as the God complex humanity has.

On one hand, we can say that academic good is a standard we can measure everything up and deduce whether or not things are good or not. We just need to remember to throw them to the curb when the numbers start making them irrelevant, despite how much we would dislike badly written movie making millions. Perhaps truly objectively good product is something that fills both academic good and the preferences of the market, but also paradoxically breaks the rules of academics.

Academics, especially when it comes to products like books or games or whatever, can be used to dismiss or support. It is an objective system in its core, created by that era’s ideals. Essentially, we have an ever changing objective system that is highly abusable with bias to support wide range of arguments, and it’s almost encouraged to do so.

Seems like I’ve managed to mangle myself with this subject. It warrants a return at a later date. Meanwhile, have an extra piece of music.

Is this a good music video? Is this a good song? Is that answer you ahve there based on your opinion, or on the notion what a good music video should be? What a good music should be?

Charade of Steve Jobb’s legacy

First of all; Steve Jobbs was a good a decent businessman. He believed what the industry began to believe, and that was the the myth of Jobbs.
Let’s take a look at Jobb’s past, and we see that he began with Atari under Nolan Bushnell, a man we can all thank for any form of real gaming form. Jobbs learned everything from Bushnell from design to business, and everything Jobbs has done has stemmed from his Atari years. Jobbs’ career has been a failure in the broadest sense, as he did not top his mentor.
Jobb worked on the first Apple computer that was built around to play a version of Breakout. From there every Apple product has been built around certain core idea, much like a gaming console. However, this approach does not work for home computers as we’ve seen through the years. Quite honestly, there’s nothing wrong with iOS, but anything that can be done on it can be done just as well on Windows based system. Jobbs offered an alternative, an alternative some people chose, but they’re more or less suffering because of this.
The computer industry belives that some day computers will be integrated to our daily lives completely and work with us 24/7. They lashed against Atari and Nintendo because they aimed comletely different approach and way of integration, and succeeded. The computer industry decided to ride on Sega, Sony, Microsoft and now Apple to find the one that would integrate computers to our daily lives. What Apple has done, what Steve Jobbs did, was to take old technology avaivable at the market and use it in a new way. This is business and design 101. Steve Jobbs, as unlike they claim, never succeeded in his aims. He never could create the system people wanted to take their own. Bill Gates has a system that people want. Windows wouldn’t be so popular if it wasn’t good. People wouldn’t have bought Atari if they didn’t see value in it.

While I agree that Jobbs did a decent job in his field, he never revolutionised anything. He always made an alternative that some used and some keep using. I have nothing against the person himself, but the lies and phallacies people throw around him. Steve Jobbs has a legacy, but the real legacy hides underneath it all.