Any Day Now: Smartphone commoditization to happen soon

by Uluroo — October 17, 2017

When you think about it hard enough and bang your head in just the right places, it makes sense.


The day you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived, after years upon years of speculation by pundits. The smartphone market has commoditized.

On Earth-4911. It looks like Motherboard got their hands on a transdimensional traveling device, because they have all the details. Jason Koebler is here to comment. Before reading Jason’s headline, please make sure that your mouth is free of any excess liquids. Uluroo is not liable for any damage to your electronics due to spit takes.

“All Phones Are the Same.”

Wednesday, Google announced Pixel 2, the phone that’s for people who want an iPhone but also the street cred that comes along with not having an iPhone.

Yeah, because people only buy smartphones as status symbols. It's super easy to make generalizations about users. That way, you don't have to consider actual reasons someone might want the Pixel, like, say, guaranteed updates, a better camera, or their preferred version of Android. Uluroo isn't advertising the Pixel, but he's against being lazy enough to make absurd generalizations about smartphone users.

What has become clear in the last month—with the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone 8 as well as the announcement of the iPhone X and the Pixel 2—is this: All phones are the same now.

[Slowly backing toward door] Mmm-hmm. Ooookay. Uluroo thinks that smartphones are actually pretty different from one another now, if you're willing to actually look at them.

Jason goes on to list the features of the Pixel 2, the iPhone 8, and the iPhone X. Let's run through it one at a time. This kind of stuff needs to come in small doses, taken only every so often.

- Pixel buds bluetooth [sic] headphones

Jason is comparing these to Apple's AirPods. Uluroo thinks Jason may not have actually read anything about the Pixel Buds, because they're quite different from the AirPods if you actually pay attention. The Pixel Buds can translate words from another language as someone speaks into the Pixel. Uluroo isn't an Android fan, but that's a pretty cool feature to have in earbuds. But, because both the Pixel Buds and the AirPods use Bluetooth, they must be the same. See? When you define “same” as having some features that do similar things, the premise “All Phones Are the Same” is totally legitimate. The problem is that nobody defines “same” that way.

Why won’t everyone just go by Jason’s definitions?

-Portrait mode

Okay. If you want this to be an example of the Pixel 2 being the same as the iPhone 8, Uluroo has news for you. The Pixel 2 does its portrait photos and selfies totally differently from the iPhone. If you had read anything about the Pixel 2, you’d know that it only needs to use one camera compared with Apple’s two cameras. Yes, the end result is a photo with a blurred background. But the phones are not the same. Even if they both have portrait mode. For two phones to be the same and not similar, their similarities should go beyond just “They both do this.” All phones make phone calls. So what? That doesn’t mean they’re the same either.

-Augmented Reality

If you have to use this to prove that two phones are the same, you should know you’re making a big stretch. Apple and Google have different augmented reality ecosystems with different apps, just like their respective app stores. So what if they both have augmented reality? Uluroo sees the Pixel 2 and the iPhone 8 as two companies having similar visions for what a phone should do, but still differing in how the phone does it. Both phones have augmented reality. They both have portrait mode. But they’re still much more different than the hardware specs would have you think.

-Comes in normal and XL sizes

Both of which are different sizes from Apple’s phones’ screen sizes.

Wireless charging is actually mentioned on the list of features of the iPhone 8 but is mysteriously never mentioned again. That’s an important difference between the iPhone and the Pixel, and Uluroo is really surprised that Google didn’t add wireless charging to the Pixel 2, especially because the Pixel 2 XL is literally $200 more expensive than its smaller sibling. Why is this so weird? Because the Pixel 2 has every feature the 2 XL has besides the 1-inch-larger screen and more battery life. Is an inch of screen space worth $200? The iPhone 8 Plus is $50 cheaper than the Pixel 2 XL, and it’s only $100 more expensive than the iPhone 8. What you get from the 8 Plus—Portrait Mode, more battery life, and a larger screen—is probably more worth the extra price than what you get from the Pixel 2 XL.

If that isn’t different, Uluroo doesn’t know what is.

What we have hit is the commodification of the smartphone, and to a similar extent the laptop and the at-home personal assistant (do you want a Pixel Book or a MacBook or a Surface Book? Do you want an Echo or a Google Home or a HomePod?).

What’s the point of even saying this? Does Jason think there’s a problem with multiple companies entering a market? This is basic capitalism, folks. Please don’t make Uluroo go into comparisons between the Pixel Book and the MacBook. You don’t even have to say one is better than the other, but don’t fool yourself pretending this is commoditization. These devices are different enough that companies can still have competition outside of price wars.

The only reason to purchase a new smartphone now is if your current phone is irreparably broken or is no longer supported by software updates.

Or if one of the features Jason just listed and conveniently forgot about appeals to you.

Your choices now are between Pure Android (Pixel), Apple's restrictive but functional and ubiquitous iOS, and more powerful phones but slow Android updates (Samsung).

How is iOS “ubiquitous” when everyone is constantly talking about how it has less market share? Does making a mess o’ more cash than your competitors make your OS “ubiquitous”? No, Android is ubiquitous because it has more active devices. This is not hard to understand.

Also, Jason forgot to link to some evidence showing that Samsung phones are more powerful, because those totally exist and are just waiting to be linked to.

Oh, wait, that was a mistake on Uluroo’s part, because all those links were to Samsung phones losing speed tests! Uluroo regrets the mistake and will totally fix that…

So what you're really choosing is not a phone, it's an operating system and an ecosystem to play in, as well as the image you'd like to project to the world (indie cred of Android, security cred of iOS), and the type of charger you're going to ask your friends or the gas station for when you forget yours.

No. This is ridiculous. This would only be true if each of these companies only sold one phone. But even within ecosystems, you have to choose between phones. Do you want the iPhone 8, the iPhone X, the iPhone 6s, or the iPhone 7 (or a Plus model)? Do you want the Pixel, the Pixel 2, the Pixel XL, or the Pixel 2 XL? Do you want the Galaxy S8, S8+, or the Note8 or the Note7? (That last one was a joke.) But these companies obviously see their phones as different enough that people have to make a choice. Sure, smartphones are similar, but they aren’t the same. If you think that, you need to look at the facts.

If the smartphone market had already commoditized, people would just be buying whatever phone was the cheapest, or at least the cheapest phone offered by their preferred retailer. But nope, that’s obviously not happening because Apple’s still in business.

It’s great that Jason Koebler wrote this interesting piece on interdimensional exploration. But what you should be doing when writing for a technology website in a given reality is not reporting on different realities but what’s actually happening. And if you look at the facts, it looks like our universe is safe… for now.

Okay, that sounded a little creepy.