Readers, let’s have a conversation. First, some basics: I am an industry and market analyst who studies personal technology. I am not a journalist. I write an opinion column here for TIME’s Techland section. I am not a paid spokesperson for any product or company — never have been, never will be. I invite you to join in the conversation which will follow, but please do so respectfully and please read the entire article before commenting.
(MORE: Check out Ben’s past Big Picture articles)
I chose this column title for a reason; to hopefully pique your interest. I’d like to make a point and then discuss it. If you’ve read any of my columns you know that I have no problem mixing it up with commenters as long as they are willing to engage in mutually beneficial discussion.
A Disturbing Trend
I mostly do private analysis for the clients of my firm, Creative Strategies, Inc. A little over two years ago I started writing columns in the public sphere. I try to cover a multitude of topics relevant to a readership more broad than the executives who read my analyses. And yes, if you have followed much of what I write, you know that I do write about Apple quite a bit. My firm has a history of studying Apple (and the rest of the computing industry) from the beginning, and Apple’s current role in the personal technology realm is of interest to us and many others.
The trend that is disturbing is the mud-slinging I notice in comments on my columns and many others all over the Internet between Apple enthusiasts and Android enthusiasts. I write a pro-Android column and the comments go crazy. I write a pro-Apple column and the comments go crazy. I see harsh name-calling, criticism, generalized statements, snap character judgments, and a host of other things. For what? All because someone likes one product over another.
Personal Preference Is Personal Preference
What really stumps me is the desire to criticize others’ choices of personal technology products. It’s as if one person choosing a different product is going to drastically alter the quality of life of another person.
Should we harshly criticize those who like different music than us? Should we criticize those who buy different car brands than us? Should we criticize those who like different foods than us?
I understand that personal technology is just that: personal. Because of that reality, there will be emotions attached to personal preferences. But in the grand scheme of things, forming harsh judgments about others simply because they like different things than you is childish at best.
Some people choose Coke over Pepsi. Some people choose Honda over Toyota. Some people choose vanilla ice cream over chocolate. Some people choose iPhones over Android products. This is not the end of the world. Yet some act as though it is.
Human beings are interesting. We develop specific likes and dislikes based around personal tastes and preferences. We dress certain ways, like certain types of food, value certain experiences over others, and make purchasing decisions based around these preferences.
All of this applies to technology as well. Why someone chooses a particular tablet, smartphone, notebook, desktop, MP3 player, or TV all revolves around personal preference. For some, the lure is price. For some, the lure is a specific technology or feature. For some, it’s the overall experience. For others, it may be convenience.
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Perhaps even for some, familiarity is just as valuable to one consumer as a cutting-edge spec is to another. The bottom line is that not all people value the same things. Not all people make decisions the same way. Understanding this is actually the key to making products relevant to the market.
Call it Market Segmentation 101, but it’s not wise for a company to try to make products that appeal to everyone. The idea behind making products of all shapes and sizes is to evaluate the tradeoffs associated with focusing on certain features and to target specific segments of the market. The key is to appeal to what each segment of the market values. The same is true with consumer purchasing, as consumers evaluate the tradeoffs that matter most to them and then make an educated decision.
Knowing What’s Best for You
I hear a lot from the Android camp that the iPhone is not the best smartphone on the market. I hear a lot from the Apple camp that the iPhone is the best smartphone on the market. What is the best is a fundamentally subjective statement. What is the best product for me may not be the best product for you. What is the best for my grandma may not be what is the best for my daughter. What is the best is defined by me and what is important to me according to my personal preferences.
What matters most is not which technology has the best specs or the most features. What matters most is that each consumer gets the right products to fit their needs. And the profound truth is that not every consumer will choose the same products. This is OK.
Contrary to popular belief, consumers are not stupid. More than 80% of consumers research products online and with trusted sources before they buy. Every major retailer I speak with understands that today’s consumer is more educated about products now than at any point in history. People know what they want, and more importantly, why they want it.
(MORE: Why It’s Unnecessary to Completely Reinvent the iPhone Year After Year)
When it comes to fanatics, so what if people stand in lines to wait for Apple products? People also wait in line for concert tickets. So what if Apple has loyal customers? So do many other brands. So what if people choose to spend a little more money on Apple products? So do people who choose to eat at gourmet restaurants over fast food joints.
It all comes down to what you value, and your consuming mentality will revolve around those values and those preferences. Not everyone values the same things. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that.
In general, we would all be better off if we learned how to disagree well. Politely agree to disagree and understand that it’s perfectly fine for people to have different interests, tastes and personal preferences. It makes the world a more interesting place.
Ben Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the “Big Picture” opinion column that appears every week on Techland.