The Next Big Thing has some tech writers pretty bored
Tech writers are a pretty demanding bunch, they want to get lots of new hardware, love press events (assuming they start on time) and love to tell their readers of the failures of the tech giants. They also love trends such as giant smartphones (that is, until the phones get ridiculous such as the new Samsung Galaxy 5).
For the past few quarters tech writers have been beating up on Apple for not releasing something as exciting as the iPad, completely forgetting that when the iPad was first previewed by Steve Jobs in 2010 the consensus was that the next big thing was a disappointment as it was simply a giant iPhone. It was, in a way, and consumers loved it.
Because they have wanted their new thrills they have missed more interesting trends at Apple such as the way the App Store has fallen into disrepair, or how Apple software is becoming less stable (iTunes has been bad for years, but now other software apps are becoming buggy, as well).
Now it may be Samsung’s turn to face the wrath of tech writers. The early reviews of the Samsung Galaxy 5 are decidedly mixed, with many writers not pointing out any major flaws with the smartphone so much as expressing disappointment that it didn’t thrill them more. The WSJ asked “Has smartphone evolution stalled?” David Pogue, formerly the NYT’s tech columnist, but now at Yahoo! (a place I go as often as I see the dentist, and with the same level of anticipation) says the new device feels like it was developed by a committee.
Yesterday, Samsung also reported it expects its Q1 earnings to be below last year’s results – a 4.5 percent decline over last year’s Q1 profits. The company is blaming slowing smartphone sales. (Expect this to show up in Apple’s numbers, as well.)
I’ve always felt that far too much attention was paid to the hardware side of the smartphone and tablet business. Devices are far easier to show online than software, at least at first. One can compare specs, sizes, colors, but the operating system is a bit more complex to talk about.
That is why functionality is so important: what does this device do new that the old does not? The new Samsung Galaxy 5 is, we hear, waterproof. That’s great, though to do so Samsung has added a little cover for the USB port which will annoy users to no end.
What made the iPhone so great when first released, was that it gave consumers the things they already wanted, but in a form they could really use. Jobs originally said the new device was really three things: a widescreen iPod, an new phone, and an Internet communications device. Tech writers were excited by the first two and pretty much passed on the last one – which proved to be the most important. The iPhone wasn’t the first phone to allow you to text, or get email, or even surf the web – it simply did all those things better.
There are all still things that our smartphones could do far better than they do today: they could more easily translate, they could more easily work as an electronics payments device, etc. But these are things that won’t be obvious with new hardware, and so won’t grab the headlines of new reviews.
I no longer expect to see these kinds of new developments out of Apple. Like many, I feel that Apple has lost its spark, its daring, its customer focus. But I’m not ready to bet the farm on this simply because I don’t feel business is like high school sports, where you simply cheer for your guys no matter what. One new launch, one new OS release, and suddenly any doubts can be erased.
The boredom some tech writers are sensing probably has far more to do with a maturing market – more and more the smartphone market is beginning to look like the PC market. Buying a good laptop is not very hard today, it is a matter of price point and operating system. Maybe the problem is that the early events season has ended and it feels like a long time to wait until the next iPhone event. Sitting behind a desk isn’t nearly as much fun as finding the next place to eat in Barcelona. But it never is.