Last week I read an article which highlighted the 10 best smartphones for the holiday season. You might think such a list would include all the best smartphone brands, right? But that’s not the case. There’s not a Nokia or Microsoft Windows phone on the list. A BlackBerry made the list but only after the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was dropped. Such lists have a major problem.
It’s The Software, Stupid
We’ve all heard of the KISS method. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Former President Bill Clinton ran a successful campaign for the presidency on a simple, It’s The Economy, Stupid. It didn’t hurt that a third party candidate helped split the vote (much the same as it did in 2016’s election).
Product reviews in technology industry rags tend to follow the same script but with a twist. ‘It’s The Hardware; We’re Stupid.’ Matthew Miller’s list is full of the expected names and faces, and the description of each is much the same. Hardware, hardware, hardware. Now, hardware is important, but even more important is the software that gets used by the customer, and that’s the problem. 90-percent of the smartphones on the list run the same operating system and the same applications. For the most part, only the hardware specifications are different.
The one smartphone that differs from the other nine is Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus which sits atop the list. It might not have made the top but Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 explosions and fires, but a list is a list.
Here’s the list.
- Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus – iPhones run iOS 10, but the hardware is typical Apple; drool worthy.
- Google Pixel and Pixel XL – this may be the camera to beat, but there’s no stereo speakers, no water resistance, they’re built by HTC and run the latest Android OS, 7.1 Nougat. Not all Android phones do, and most will never.
- Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge – these remain as Samsung’s flagship devices; good camera, great screen, but no Android Nougat.
The rest of the list is what you would expect; variations on an Android theme. All have good hardware and that includes camera, but all live with Android and most will not get upgraded to the latest.
- Moto X
- LG V20
- OnePlus 3
- Honor 8
- HTC 10
- BlackBerry DTEK60
- ZTE AXON 7
Hardware specifications are easy to compare because they’re easily placed into a PowerPoint bullet point list; but software is not, so technology writers take the easy road downhill and compare hardware and ignore the rest. That part of the hardware that gets used the most. Apple has shown the industry the way, but few competitors pay much attention. Apple’s customers going back a few years are able to run the latest version of iOS while most Android-based smartphones will never see an upgrade beyond what came with the phone. That’s just wrong, of course, but Apple benefits from the malaise and myopia that permeates the cell phone industry.
One can argue that Android’s most recent versions have features that iPhones do not. But the feature wars go both ways. Customers have a couple of million apps from which to choose, and most of the popular apps are on both platforms, so that must mean everything in software is the same between devices, right?
If so, then why does Apple still sell the Mac? Because the tight integration between hardware and software is important to many customers. Windows PCs might have the larger marketshare of much less expensive personal computers, but the Mac owns the industry’s mindshare and profits. iPhone and iPad work much the same way. It’s the software, stupid; mixed with Apple’s unique blend of premium hardware, and software usability that sets the company’s products apart from the Android and Windows masses.
Hardware is one thing. Software is something else. A product whose usability is greater than the sum of the parts usually has an Apple logo on it.