The greater techno-sphere got their collective panties in a twist this weekend over the quasi-unveiling of the rumored Google Phone. I’m not going to link to any of the coverage, I’m lazy and you all can use a search engine just fine, but it behooves me as an opinionated cock-sucker and general bastard to throw in my two cents.
So, what do we know about this bad boy? Basically, it’s a re-branded (or should that be “unbranded”) HTC phone running the latest version of Android. Supposedly it will be offered carrier-unlocked (no word on pricepoints) and it works on T-Mobile’s variant of the GSM spectrum in the U.S. What that means, for those who don’t understand the vagaries of cellular data networks (New York Times, I’m looking at you) is that it a) won’t be running on your precious fucking Verizon, and b) will only operate at EDGE speeds on AT&T.
My take on this: “So the fuck what?”
The vast mouth-breathing majority of the blogosphere is agog with comments about how this strapping young lad of a phone will “change the industry” and other such hyperbolic twaddle. The phrase “iPhone killer” has even been bandied about. The thing is, it’s all bullshit. The cell phone landscape has already been changed, and the changer’s name was Apple. No one in their right mind (Enderle need not apply) can deny that it was the iPhone that introduced the mainstream consumer to what a properly executed smart-phone should be. But again I ask: “So the fuck what?”
The truth is that there is nothing exceptionally special about the iPhone, just as there isn’t anything particularly special about this new Google Phone. Both, along withe the Droid, the Pre and whatever the hell Blackberry is hawking these days have their strengths and weaknesses. Buy whichever one works best for you and then shut up about it.
The problem is that the bulk of the tech media doesn’t understand the previous paragraph. They are so consumed with two huge blind-spots that they have utterly missed the point. Those two blind-spots are Silicon Valley insularity and binary thinking.
A huge chunk of the tech media, and the New Media Douchebags that do their thinking for them, have their heads so far up their Sili Valley asses that they haven’t the foggiest idea what the actual cellular phone market looks like. Here’s a hint: there are vastly more people out there with “dumb” phones, or no cell phone at all, than there are smart phone users. Will that change? Most likely, but probably not in the way that the punditards think. I suspect that, much like with the rest of the consumer electronics industry, the features that we now consider to be emblematic of “smart” phones will gradually become features that are taken for granted in newer mainstream devices.
To take an example from an industry utterly unrelated to cell phones, let’s whip up a good old fashioned auto industry analogy. Specifically, let’s talk GPS. At one time only the swankiest of luxury automobiles came with an optional GPS navigation system. Now they’re being included in many base models. Does that make GPS navigation any less of a “smart” feature? No, it just shows that, over time, the average consumer tends to adopt successful technology.
Another way in which the press seems oblivious to the realities surrounding the cellular phone market is the tendency to equate the smart phone market with the personal computer market, where consumers have been conditioned to think that there is one maker of PC operating systems, with a few alternatives for hippies and nerds. Historically the cellular phone market has been much more like the rest of the consumer electronics market, with a plethora of brand choices and consumers showing precious little loyalty among the brands.
So, how does this relate to the cellular phone market? Unlike many in the blogosphere who seem to envision a weird, dystopian future where one monolithic corporation dispenses smart phones to the enlightened digerati, I see a future where many of the features that now epitomize the “smart phone” are present in a wide variety of devices offered by a number of manufacturers running a choice of operating systems. Among them I definitely see Android and the iPhone OS, with less confidence surrounding WebOS and WinMobile.
Which brings us to the second way in which I think that most pundits miss the point: binary thinking. It seems to be taken as a gospel truth that only one vendor can exist in any given market, even as the same pundits lash out at companies that choose not to participate in markets that they don’t see as profitable (you can shove your Apple Netbook up your ass).
It’s somewhat amusing to see writers shift seamlessly from screeching about “monopolies” and “anti-competitive behavior” to breathless screeds about the next “X Killer,” where X is usually the iPhone, Apple, or a game console. Again, these people are ignoring the vast population of consumer products where competing brands offer different products, and it all works famously. Has anyone ever seriously made a comment such as “The new Vizio HDTV is totally a Panasonic killer”? No, they haven’t and if they did they would be laughed at. But somehow, if a device connects to a computer then we’re living under Highlander rules.
So, back to the point, the Google Phone, or Nexus One, or whatever it’s called. Goody on Google. It’s a nice looking phone. I’m sure it will be good for Google, it will be good for Apple, and it will be good for the market as a whole.
Now shut the fuck up about it.