Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Smartphone Marketing: Why Companies Purposely Market Bad Selling Points (and Which Ones Matter)

When companies advertise their best and brightest new smartphone, they gauge the consumers brilliantly. Unfortunately, they do this because people are excited by "new" this, "shiny" that, and "higher" whatevers! I am here to dispel some rumors and help consumers buy the smartphone they need and can use.

The Android vs. iPhone vs. Windows 8 vs. Blackberry (OS 10) Smartphone Battle: Here are the general points of each smartphone (nothing bad).
  • Android - Inexpensive models readily available. Highly customizable. Huge line of free apps.
  • iPhone - Ease of use is amazing. Stability is top-notch. Updates apply to all iPhones at the same time.
  • Windows 8 - Ease of use can be said to be too simple. Great integration with other Microsoft products. Really nice features.
  • Blackberry (OS 10) - Still the best to text with if using a Q10 or Q5. A simple interface. Even with the availability of Blackberry World, it has the ability to use Android apps.
Each system has their benefits, what matters is what you need. Don't be afraid to try something new because that's not "your" brand. But I'm not here to tell you about what is the best smartphone (especially since most of my references are from Android and iPhone), I just merely wanted to explain what their general benefits are before we get to the nitty gritty.

New, but Old Features: A lot of companies do this, and it bugs me how easily people flock to something because of it. An old technology that has been around for quite some time is reintroduced and advertised to be this grand new feature. Maybe it is new to that line of products, but it isn't anything new.
  • Example 1 - iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner - This is not new. There are older Android smartphones with this capability. Why aren't they more popular on Android smartphones? Probably because they have "cooler" lock-systems like Facial or Voice recognition.
  • Example 2 - Android IR (infrared) Blaster - When I was a kid my friend got a watch for his birthday that could turn TV's on and off. We loved watching the teacher try to fix the TV while trying to show an educational video! So, no, this is not new.
The point is, while there may be a load of new features on a new smartphone, it doesn't mean you should buy a phone for those reasons.

New but Unusable Features: Many people think that because you have more of something, it is better. That is logical, but not sound. Android and iPhone are both notably subject to this.
  • Example 1 - iPhone 64-bit CPU - 64-bit, now that's awesome! I love almost anything 64-bit because it uses RAM more efficiently than 32-bit, and I have 32GB of RAM at my disposal. But that's for my PC... For a phone, it's not going to do a whole lot right now. It may be great for the future, but I doubt the true benefits will kick in anytime soon.
  • Example 2 - Android Quad-Core CPUs - This sounds impressive, and from an accomplishment standpoint it is. But the problem is that there are very few apps that can take advantage of a quad-core CPU beyond some benchmarks and a handful of games. Will these be helpful in the future? Yes, but again, it is a question of when?
  • Example 3 - CPU Speed - While newer generations of Androids tend to use identical CPUs, there is some variation. iPhones obviously don't have this situation. But don't think that a faster speed than an advertised competitor's means that the competitor performs worse. First off, they use different operating systems (OS) which will react differently. Secondly, a simple way to think of speed differences is that if I have an old Intel Pentium 4 chip that runs a faster advertised speed than a newer AMD Bulldozer chip. Do you really think the Pentium 4 will outperform the AMD Bulldozer? No, of course not. So when comparing competitor speeds, throw out the notion that somehow there is a fair basis for comparison.
  • Example 4 - Megapixel Myth - The higher the megapixel must mean a better camera image, right? Wrong. This is a myth. Megapixels is just about how much you can fit into a picture. A person with a 13-megapixel camera could take a picture of a kitchen and capture the cabinets, the fridge, and the counter-top. A person with an 8-megapixel camera might only be able to get the fridge and cabinets standing in the same spot. Which means if they take a few steps back, they can also fit in the counter-top. What matters is the camera sensor. This is what makes the quality of an image or video. A camera that is 8-megapixels, but from 2002, will likely produce a "worse" photo than a camera that is 5-megapixels and is the same brand, but from 2013. Why? Because the camera sensor has been improved since then, and even the cheaper products are getting better camera sensors.
Additionally, don't be confused when hearing about GPU and CPU, GPU are for graphics and normally do benefit from more cores.

What Points Do Matter: There are numerous reasons to consider why you need a smartphone, but let's not get too boring. Instead, here are some general points to build off of when considering a smartphone. (The following assumes that you are not buying a smartphone over three years old, making speed a non-issue.)
  • Work vs. Play - This is very preferential, but I would see it this way. Android is an all-around, safe bet. It will likely be able to do everything you expect from a smartphone. If you are strictly about communication, then a Blackberry is great, but all the others will suffice as well. If you are about security and privacy, then a Blackberry is best (iPhone being the worst as they will have no problem giving up your information to government agencies when needed). If you use a lot of Microsoft products, then a Windows phone would be most handy. For gaming I would go with Android, as they will likely have the most free games available. If you are new to smartphones and want a small learning curve, then the iPhone is the smartphone for you. Remember, if you need a smartphone that has an abundance of apps to help you with work and life, then Android and iPhone are going to be your best bets.
  • Smartphone vs. Camera - Nowadays, most people like to double their smartphone as a camera. The top brands will never disappoint in camera quality, but don't be fooled by the megapixel myth described above. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41 megapixel camera, but it also sports a spectacular camera sensor. If you don't care about the camera quality, then consider an Android purely out of price. An old iPhone may be great as well. An old Blackberry will be cheap and still viable for work or life.
  • Features vs. Budget - Features may be only icing, but they are great to have and muck about with. Yet, your budget may not allow you to enjoy all the best new features. The balance of these two categories of course depend on what features and your budget. In general, this is what I would do. If I don't care about the newest features, but still want some good features; buy last year's model. Sure, it might be missing IR or a fingerprint scanner, but that's what a universal remote and lock-screen is for. It will still handle almost everything new as far as apps, and it will cost a lot less. If I'm all about the features, but my budget is not great, and I don't mind "working" on my smartphone; then I would invest in an older Android (namely a Samsung Galaxy). The developer communities (especially XDA) are great about keeping older devices updated, and enabling newer features recent Android smartphones are meant to be exclusive to. If you have a decent budget and need decent features, any phone (save maybe Blackberry) should do.
There are of course other things to consider. Starting with these points will help eliminate some of the bigger steps in choosing a smartphone.

NOTE: I am biased towards Android, but I have owned all the OS smartphones mentioned here, except for Windows 8. (I do have Windows 8 for desktop, which is horrid!) I think each has their place, but I have found Android much better for my needs and wants.

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