Kidney jokes are passé: the Apple-Android fan wars are pointless

It’s that time of the year again. An Apple Event has triggered the by-now familiar social media wars between fans of Apple and Android. Not surprisingly, the jokes, barbs, memes and parody videos about Apple in general and iPhone 7 in particular have also started. Apple fans profess their faith in the brand and put down Android owners given an opportunity. This is not new and perhaps has intensified over the years with the growth of social media. I guess those who indulge in such flamewars know it is all futile, yet they continue to indulge in it.

Here are a few points to for all the players to consider:

1. Android has won. Er… but so has iOS

Without doubt, Android is the predominant, popular, loved mobile OS in the world. It has beaten iOS to pulp in terms of market share. In countries like India, the dominance is total. Android has decisively won the mobile OS war. But so has iOS – just that it was fighting a battle different from that of Android. While Android chased volumes and market share, iOS has focused on a loyalty from a niche audience and on profitability from an ecosystem. Market share is not the only measure of success.

2. Different product philosophies

Apple has always been about controlling the hardware and software. Android, on the other hand predominantly focuses on being the OS engine on a hardware controlled by third party vendors. It has made attempts to control both the hardware & software but with limited success in terms of reach. These approaches have an impact on pricing, the kind of consumers who buy-in to such philosophies and so on. Many of the Android fans, especially the younger lot, aren’t aware of Apple’s history before the iPhone. They don’t associate the brand with Mac, iPod and they don’t see any halo around the brand. Google, on the other hand is the company with the brightest halo thanks to more recent efforts of the brand: Google search, Gmail and all the other innovations of the company.

2. Addressing different audiences

The reason why Android is popular is clear: it is available on a diverse range of handsets addressing different price points. It is highly customisable (‘advanced’ as a loyalist would say) and the OS is more localised and useful (than iOS) in markets like India. So Android is for everyone while Apple is not. Apple, however is not unduly perturbed that its OS is not on all devices.

3. Choose what works for you, be happy with it

Everyone realises that product categories have tiers. A buyer of a product aimed at the lower end of the product may acknowledge that expensive products exist in the same category which are out of reach for him. He may believe that such expensive products are poor value as his brand choice (the lower priced one) is good enough to meet his needs. For example, a ready-made shirt priced at Rs.200 versus something priced 20 times more, address two different segments and mindsets. Everyone expects a 5-star luxury hotel to be priced differently from say, a lodge or motel. An economy class air travel is bound to be different from business or first class. The product expectations are clear too. The same situation is seen across many categories – footwear, automobiles, writing instruments and so on.

4. I don’t like it, so why should others?

The target audience of a low-end or mass brand is rarely obsessed with brand choices in the super premium or luxury segment – they see them as a different world which no scope for interaction. A buyer of a Rs. 100 ball point may find a Mont Blanc pen a wasteful expenditure (and out of reach) but is unlikely to mock the buyer who willingly opts for a Mont Blanc. Similarly, a budget hotel traveller knows that a 5-star hotel caters to a different class and is perfectly OK with it. But only in mobile phones do we find that everyone from a mass market brand to a premium brand user have an opinion about a super-premium brand. The reason: a mobile phone is an extremely personal device and evokes intense emotions with regards to the operating system, brand of mobile handset, the specifications, personalisation and more. Interestingly, a buyer of a sub-15K Android phone (and they seem to make great phones at that price) will not mock a 50k+plus Android phone as poor-value but will surely feel the same way about the iPhone. Also, the difference between the tiers is visually apparent in many cases:

– the business class seats are bigger; there’s more leg room; they get better quality food
– the restaurant at a 5-star hotel looks more opulent than a regular restaurant; the food is presented well and the service is expected to be more personal

Then there are categories where the difference between the two tiers of products is more experiential…more intangible. The feel of the fabric and the craftsmanship of an expensive shirt may not be immediately apparent when compared side by side with a cheaper shirt. I feel that is the case with the iPhone and the rest of the phones. The former’s benefits are more in the design and product experience than just physical looks. Even in physical looks the difference was apparent during the early days of the iPhone, not anymore. The larger screens (first introduced on Android phones) and the improvements in specs, aesthetics and pricing have dwindled the iPhone advantage over the years.

5. Anti-Apple barbs: pleasing the echo chamber

In my view, the arguments and jokes against Apple do more to please an audience which is already dead against Apple than to create dissonance among the Apple fans. The barbs only tell non-Apple owners that they have made the right choice and make them feel good about it. Herewith some common arguments:

Apple products are expensive: yes they are. Save for US, where there is carrier subsidy and affordable upgrade programmes on the iPhone, the phone has always been priced at a premium in other markets. Sometimes exorbitantly so. Even with other products – laptops, desktops, watches…Apple has consciously opted for premium pricing and better margins. That’s a conscious choice which a brand makes – just as a hospitality brand operating only in a particular segment.

Poor value: that is subjective. What is of poor value for me could be of great value for someone else. Value for money is not about low price – it is about extracting the maximum value for the price paid, being happy with the experience and not regretting the choice.

Not first with features: true. Apple has never proclaimed the desire to be the first. Time and again, they have said that they strive to be the best. It is not just a mere claim but they get this right most of the time. A fingerprint sensor may have been present in phones before TouchID was introduced but Apple did a fantastic job of making it user friendly, mainstream – so that it becomes common across other phones too. Competing brands, especially Samsung are more obsessed about beating Apple to a feature for launch, as witnessed with the watch.

No innovation after Steve Jobs: this is a convenient stick to beat the company with because Steve is not going to come back to corroborate or disagree with it. Everyone somehow expects Apple to include world-changing features with every product release, which is a burden of high expectations. But reader Yu Siang Teo says it well here:

There’s a Chinese saying “????”, which means the larger something or someone becomes, the easier it is for it to be the centre of attention and attack. This is really an apt description of this article — it is always easy to attack Apple for being creatively dead. In fact, this was done every single year after Apple’s event, and yet year after year Apple continues to grow stronger and bigger (and ship tons of products). But here’s why I think Apple is not an innovation zombie, not yet anyway.

Here’s some of the revolutionary milestones that Apple introduced in its iPhone lineup:

– the original iPhone, for being itself
– the App Store for creating the concept of an app ecosystem
– retina display in iPhone 4, which changed the industry’s standard for high resolution displays on a smartphone (and later in laptops and desktops too)
– Touch ID (fingerprint sensor) in iPhone 5S, which made unlocking as easy as pressing the home button
– Apple Pay in iPhone 6, which changed mobile payment
– 3D touch in iPhone 6S, which opened up a whole new area of interaction design for smartphones

Almost all these innovations would soon trickle down to its competitors. But the point is that revolutionary innovations are rare and mostly years apart.

Buyers are mindless sheep: this is insulting the intelligence of ‘everyone who is not me’. The thinking is ‘I don’t like this product as I don’t see great value in it. So whoever feels otherwise is an idiot’. No one parts with their money easily – every purchase, even high value ones is thought through. Apple fans buy whatever junk is thrown at them is again a convenient rationalisation to pat oneself on the back for his choice.

This rant is not going to put an end to the kidney jokes. Ultimately, what matters is sales. Now lets see that the Oct-Dec quarter holds in store for Apple.

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