About a week ago, venerable tech reviewer Walt Mossberg penned a widely circulated article articulating that if the iPhone 7 isn’t “spectacular”, Apple will no longer be able to maintain “its ever-thinning lead as the best smartphone you can buy.”
Indeed, the notion that Apple is on the cusp of losing its status as the premier smartphone on the market has been a shallow and arguably baseless argument that has persisted for years. Going as far back as 2008, Apple has long been the target of pundits who like to proclaim that Apple needs to come up with a crazy new technology or innovative design lest it be lapped by an increasingly formidable lineup of Android devices.
The problem with such arguments is that they tend to grade Android products on a curve. Whereas a new iPhone needs to be damn near perfect right out of the box in order to be viewed as a success, Android handsets are curiously afforded a lot more room for failure. Whereas iPhone shortcomings are magnified and used as fuel for “Apple has lost its innovative mojo” think pieces, Android shortcomings, no matter how major, no matter how fundamental to the overall user experience, are glossed over with regularity.
Mossberg’s most recent piece is a prime example of this bizarre grading curve in action.
One excerpt reads:
But the top-of-the-line iPhones were challenged impressively just two weeks ago by rival Samsung’s beautiful, carefully engineered new Galaxy S7 phones. A Verge test showed the Samsung’s cameras are better. Only the sadly typical software mess on those phones makes them lag behind Apple’s long-superior iPhone.
So basically, Apple needs to come up with something spectacular because Samsung’s brilliantly engineered Galaxy S7 devices are apparently quite good, even though its software is reportedly a “mess.”
Since when is the software that powers a device so unimportant that it’s casually glossed over as if it were nothing more than a minor footnote? When it comes to Android devices, however, such oversights are all too common in product reviews.
Remember how Apple was lambasted when they just changed the look of iOS with iOS 7? Imagine the vitriol that would follow in a world where Apple released software that was universally panned.
From Mossberg’s piece, one could reasonably conclude that Apple needs to get its act together with the iPhone 7 in order to prevent the Galaxy S7 from assuming the position as the top smartphone on the market. After all, save for some seemingly minor software frustrations, the two products are presumably neck and neck.
Only problem is that a previous Mossberg review of the S7 had less than flattering things to say about the device’s software.
As has happened so often in the past, Samsung’s best efforts at hardware are let down by software. The company told me it had stopped trying half-baked software ideas, and reduced duplication of Samsung and Android apps by about 30 percent.
I agree that the S7’s have the cleanest software build of any Galaxy I’ve tested, and that Samsung’s TouchWiz interface has been toned down. But there’s still too much duplicate software for my taste. For instance, out of the box, there are still two email apps, two music services, two photo-viewing apps, two messaging apps, and, except on Verizon, two browsers and dueling wireless payment services. (Samsung says Verizon barred including Samsung’s browser and Samsung Pay out of the box.) And Verizon builds in a third messaging app.
And, speaking of Verizon, my test unit running on that carrier had a folder with eight of the carrier’s apps in it. The setup process also guided me to using Verizon’s messaging app rather than Samsung’s and a Verizon backup service. It even warned me I might lose important stuff if I didn’t sign up for the Verizon service. At one point, I received a gaudy, jarring full-screen Verizon ad urging me to send retail gift cards via messaging. I also received a notification urging me to let Verizon show me how to speed up visits to its stores.
And yet, in Mossberg’s piece from last week, he’d have readers believe that the iPhone’s lead over rivals is dangerously “thin.”
The reality is that grading Android products on a curve is nothing new; important and downright fundamental smartphone features that don’t quite work are seemingly ignored while praise is focused on the features that do work. Half-baked products are labeled “promising” while flawed features are generously labeled “works in progress.”
It’s why the iPhone 7 will likely be called a “disappointment” if Apple doesn’t introduce some wild new form factor or some crazy new feature that defies the laws of physics. It’s why the iPhone 7 will inevitably be criticized for being “evolutionary and not revolutionary” even if the device works as exactly as advertised.
Now some might argue that Apple is simply held to a higher standard, and perhaps that is true. Still, it seems wholly bizarre that reviewers demand constant perfection and innovation from Apple while they continue to give Android devices so much room for error.