Saturday, 16 September 2017

The iPhone X. Any real-world advantage?

Hmm. The iPhone X is now officially revealed, and it looks very nice, but not very different from my Samsung Galaxy S8+. Popped into a case, it will hardly be distinguishable. Will people say to me, 'Oh, is that the new iPhone X?' or will they say 'That's the Galaxy S8+, isn't it?' Assuming that people ever do take that kind of interest nowadays.

Ten years of smartphones have rather dulled the capacity to feel more than mild curiosity about whatever phone is in somebody's hands. The subject has tended to become trivial, a mere conversation-opener, a chat-up line. One might as well remark 'That's a fantastic laptop/tablet/sports watch you've got there!' As if you would.

Smartphones do remain very personal devices, and they say something about one's tech savviness, brand loyalty, income bracket, and spending priorities. Or at least they can signal those things, if signalling to others is important. Grown-ups and serious users surely don't care.

But they are as ubiquitous as Ford Fiestas. It has become the norm to own a smartphone, high-end if possible, budget if not. Putting it in another way, you have to make an effort, a carefully-researched purchasing choice, and be capable of resisting the steering efforts of a shop salesperson, to end up with a completely simple, uncomplicated phone. Simple phones are undesirable, have no status, and there is probably not that much of a market for them. Who now aspires to own an 'old-fashioned' phone with a small screen and buttons to press? Senior folk, who only want to make voice calls, possibly read emails, and dabble tentatively with Facebook?

What about style? Well, iPhones previously set the pace here, but nowadays the necessary protective case has become the prime indicator of personal taste and sense of style.

The range of cases is enormous, from the lurid and tacky to the discreet and quietly luxurious. Cases conceal what makes a phone different from the rest. And cases quickly degrade with usage, so that after a year or two the average case looks tatty, dragging down the eye-catchiness of any phone. The signature features of my own phone - notably the curved edges of its screen - are half-concealed by the enveloping case. And the leather sleeve I made for it effectively hides my phone from view. Indeed, the same sleeve might contain my sunglasses - which, of course, is exactly its point: disguise. It may no longer turn heads to flaunt a high-end smartphone in public, but the upwardly-spiralling value of these devices when freshly launched (what, £1,000 or so?) makes them a hugely tempting target for theft, slick or brutal. One way to counter that is to hide it, or pretend the thing is actually something else.

No doubt Apple will sell a lot of its latest flagship. Its fan base isn't going to mutiny. They will cough up the required fee, and defiantly remain with a brand they love beyond reason.

And I can see that the Apple brand has a genuine pull, even though Apple has gradually become, in terms of sales, a one-product company. I don't personally find its image appealing. There's something about their approach to marketing, and their treatment of customers, that I find offputting. Not that I am by any means a cheerleader for Samsung. Samsung can flop as easily as any other company. And they have in the past. As many other companies have. Nobody is immune from disaster.

Really, purchasing preference rests on small differences that seem to hardly matter, but in fact do. I like being able to customise my Samsung phones so much. I do like using microSD cards, that I can transfer from phone to phone (at least for now). I prefer the letter 'S' to the letter 'A'.

When I last checked, Vodafone's deals on the Galaxy S8+ were scarcely unchanged from those of five months ago, when the phone launched. Clearly demand has been strong and it has sold well. That's five months of good profit for Vodafone, and of course for Samsung. Even if newer phones like the iPhone X divert attention, I expect the S8+ to carry on selling well because of its modern design, large clear screen, responsiveness, and good battery life. These all tick fundamental boxes. When all is said and done, the iPhone X offers nothing very different. There is just the Apple name, the Apple thing. I wonder if it will be quite enough.

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