Mobile phones OR why people still buy the iPhone

I went shopping tonight. I say *I* went shopping, I was unlikely to buy anything. I was helping my housemate look at mobile phones. Her sister has bought a HTC phone, so we were going to look at those specifically more than anything else.

We went to the O2 store at Cribbs Causeway (Bristol), followed by a few other stores at Cribbs which were mostly shit. What is wrong with most mobile phone stores (excluding O2), that they think they can put out plastic dummy phones, and that’ll be enough for anyone to sign a 2-year contract at £35 a month? Arseholes.

Just imagine that in any other capacity.

“Welcome to DFS. No you can’t sit on our actual sofas, but this cardboard dummy one is roughly the size and shape of the one you might get to buy, if you pass the relevant credit checks. Shall I get the paperwork for you to sign?”

Really if you’re not going to let us touch the products, then why don’t we all just buy it off the Internet, from the pictures/size information available there, so we don’t have to be hassled by your shop assistants?

I say “hassled”. In the O2 store, there was no acknowledgement we even existed. Them and the Apple store had customers though, which is more than can be said for some of the other mobile phone stores such as the Three one and the Vodafone store. Those two had staff outnumbering customers by…well…100%. There were no customers in Three or Vodafone, but there were in the stores with the actual mobile phones to play with like the Carphone Warehouse, and the O2 store. Who’d have thought it?

Upon entering both Three and Vodafone, we were immediately approached by salesmen. The guy in the Three store looked like he’d lost the will to live, and the Vodafone guy created an over-familiar air by asking my housemate where she worked.  Her reluctance to tell him (not because she’s ashamed of it, but because it’s none of his fucking business), left a rather awkward period of complete silence, before we both left, sans phone.

Back to the O2 store, where we studied at some length the HTC Wildfire S and the HTC Explorer. Both the same price, same size, screen looked the same size. The buttons are in the same places too. In fact apart from the fact one had a flash, we were really struggling to see any difference between them.

Upon getting home, I Googled what the difference is, and I’m pretty much right. There’s almost no difference, except for the camera, and the type of GPS sensor. They’ve both got the same size screen, same resolution, same processor, same memory, same version of Android, and same price.

Some more research tells me they both came out this year, which brings me to my point of something I love about the iPhone. As a customer, it’s easy to tell which iPhone is the most current – because it’s the one for sale, and in the advertising. They come out about once every 12-18 months.

Having two near-identical products on the same desk at the same price – how does that help anyone? As a retailer, you’re confusing your customers. As a manufacturer, how does releasing two phones in the second half of 2011 that are almost identical, help you? Is your aim to be seen as constantly changing, and thus even if you’re not changing, you can release the old phone under a different name with a couple of very minor components changed, and call it a brand new phone? This is (partly) the sort of crap that made me switch to the iPhone in the first place.

As proven by both Android and iOS, the software is now more important than the hardware. The Android Market and Apple’s iOS App Store is part of what makes them the most popular new platforms.

I’m not saying there isn’t room for a range of different size/specification phones, but having got to a point where your phone has a 3mp+ camera, and a fast enough processor to run the current version of the operating system, why not just keep churning them out? And make sure they’re updated with the latest and greatest versions of the operating system available? At least until you actually have some new features to put on them, that clearly differentiates (and replaces) the previous model on the shelves.

2 thoughts on “Mobile phones OR why people still buy the iPhone”

  1. The Vodafone guy may not have been trying to be over-familiar – they have a discount scheme for NHS employees.

    As for the proliferation of almost-identical handsets, I put it down to a) network exclusives to prevent price-matching challenges by consumers and b) trying to get customers to upgrade based on the design of the case or whatever, like it used to be (amongst a certain class of consumer) pre-feature- and smartphone.

    The Wildfire S is a fine entry-level Android handset, though. Tesco were doing it free on a £15/month contract (300 mins, 5000 texts, 500MB data).

    1. You’re probably right on network exclusives. I do remember a time a few years ago when it seemed like Nokia had a new phone out every month, with such tiny incremental improvements – like from monophonic to polyphonic ringtones, or whatever. I stopped caring about phones for a bit because they were either dull, or things like the SPV that had a terrible reputation for reliability.
      Thankfully, since then, the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc. have all come out, shook the entire market back to life again, and made everyone pull their fingers out and raise their respective games.

      The person I was shopping with ideally wants to go with O2, but that Tesco deal sounds great. O2 have a new pricing structure where it seems practically all phones have the same monthly prices based on the same minutes, texts, etc. but the handsets cost different prices at signup. While this is great for checking out prices, it seems to make some phones artificially expensive.

      Quick example of this:
      HTC Wildfire S on O2 PAYG £129.99 + Simplicity sim-only contract card (600mins/unlimited text/500mb data) @ 21.50 per month = total cost over 2 years of £645.99.
      HTC Wildfire S on contract, phone free + contract (600mins/unlimited text/500mb data) @ 32.00 per month = total cost over 2 years of £768.
      Contract option is £122.01 more than buying it on PAYG and sticking an o2 sim-only card in, plus with the cheaper option, you’re only tied into a contract for 12 months instead of 2 years.

      Meanwhile, if you do the same with the HTC Desire S, buying them separately (PAYG plus sim-only deal) works out £47.99 more than an equivalent contract. It looks to me like the lower-spec Wildfire S handset is offsetting the price of the Desire S, which should be a much more expensive handset, but isn’t – as both are offered free on very similar contracts.

      I give that for reference only. In reality, she is looking to pay around £15-20 a month.

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