Exploding phones and misjudging customers
Okay, now I may begin to feel sorry for Samsung. I mean, it was sort of cool that a company which has been making money be copying Apple’s look (and producing demonstrably inferior equipment) was losing tons of money and taking a hit to their reputation because of exploding phones, but now it’s even worse: Samsung Recalling Almost 2.8M Washers Due to Impact Injuries. During the spin cycle the drums become detached, crashing into other parts of the machine, causing parts of the outer body to break off and fly away hard enough to have caused broken bones in some cases. Exploding washing machines!
In case you missed the earlier news: one of Samsung’s new phones started exploding, catching fire, and similar things, prompting the TSA and agencies in other countries to ban them from air travel. Samsung did a recall and replacement of some of the models, and the replacement phones also caught fire, resulting in a complete recall of all models: It is the consensus in the tech world that Samsung execs rushed the Galaxy Note 7 into production with a seriously shortened test cycle because of rumors that the iPhone 7 would be a dud–which made them think they could grab a bunch of the market. The reasoning being that rumors were the size and shape of the iPhone 7 wouldn’t change much from the 6s… because people only buy new phones because they come in new shapes, not because of improved cameras or other interior features.
Other people were predicting bad iPhone sales because Apple removed the headphone jack. What has actually happened is that millions of the new iPhones sold the first weekend, and since then Apple has been selling the phones literally faster than they can manufacture them. Apple did report the first year-over-year revenue drop (but still 9 billion dollars of profit) for the most recent quarter, but the new iPhone went on sale at the very end of that 90-day period, so the new phone sales had little to do with the numbers.
Samsung appears to have done worse than shot itself in the foot with this attempt to take advantage of an opportunity that was never there.
There’s a certain type of tech person, the sort who gets a full-time job writing about technology for general interest news sites, for instance, that looks at technology from an extremely skewed point of view. They aren’t the only people who do this, but let’s stick to them for the moment. They seem to be incapable of looking at a product as anything other than a bulleted list of features. And they are especially bad at imagining that anyone in the world would ever use a particular product differently than they do.
I know this because there have been plenty of times that I fall into that mental trap (and the related one of not remembering that people aren’t going to like and dislike the same sorts of things in stories/movies/et al as I do).
Even though way back in the day I had been addicted to my old Apple ][e, I was less impressed with the original Macintosh. Then I got a job testing software and hardware and writing customer documentation for a company that sold software that ran on DOS-based PCs (Windows didn’t exist, yet), and I became obsessed with being about to control every little thing on my PC. I would tweak configuration files to modify which utilities and portions of the operating system would be loaded into which parts of the memory, for instance. I looked at Mac users as people who didn’t really understand the equipment they were using.
Then Windows came along, and over the years the PC world became more and more like the Mac. I don’t just mean the GUI interface and pointing-and-clicking, but more and more of the nitpicky details of how the system was configured were hidden away from the user—not just hidden, but the systems worked in ways that it was not longer necessary to know that stuff to use the product.
The really big change for me, though, was meeting my husband. In all of my relationships before Michael, I was the person who knew the most about computers in particular, and technology in general. Michael knew at least as much as me, and had an even better knack at troubleshooting and coaxing seemingly broken equipment into working again. And… he started managing my computer. And I found, suddenly, that I had a helluva lot more time to actually work on my writing when I wasn’t acting as the in-house IT department.
Then, because he was tired of spending so much time troubleshooting my Mom’s computer (a series of used PCs coupled with her habit of clicking on absolutely any link she received in an email thus infecting the computer literally with thousands of pieces of malware), we bought her an iMac. And I picked up an old used Macbook that ran the same version of the OS as her machine, so when she couldn’t remember how to do something, I could fire up my machine and walk her through it over the phone. And then I started using the Mac laptop as my convention machine because it was, frankly, easier to use than my Windows laptop.
And during that long journey, I discovered on a new level something that I had constantly found myself (as a technical writer) arguing with engineers at work: the customer cared about what the machine allowed them to do, not how the machine did it.
Right now, people are griping about the headphone jack being removed from the iPhone (interestingly, Motorola dropped it from some smart phones earlier this year, several other phone makers have announced phones without headphone jacks coming soon, but no one is complaining about them). And they’re complaining that Apple is changing its laptop lines to use only USB-C ports supporting USB and Thunderbolt (again, something that a bunch of Chromebooks did earlier, and at least one PC laptop maker has announced they’re doing next). And I understand those gripes, I do.
But so for not one single person—not one—has presented any argument that isn’t the logical equivalent of arguments that were used to protest the removal of floppy disk drives from computers. They are the same arguments that were raised in protest when Apple replaced serial and parallel ports on the iMac with USB years ago. They are the same arguments people made about why compact discs shouldn’t be replaced with downloaded music files. They are the same arguments people made when cassette tapes and vinyl records were replaced with compact discs. The same arguments that were made when VHS tapes were replaced with DVDs. And the same arguments that were made when cable replaced antennae on the roofs of houses and apartment buildings.
And I suspect they are logically equivalent to the arguments that were made when electricity replaced oil lamps.
My five-and-a-half year old Macbook Pro has an ethernet port that I have never, ever used or needed. The Macbook I owned for a bit over three years before that also had an ethernet port that I believe I used exactly once. My current Macbook Pro has an SD card slot that I never used until late last year when I bought an adapter that allowed me to fit a micro SD card in flush with the side of the computer (rather than sticking out as the SD cards do) so I could have a supplemental drive to move some files onto because I’m having trouble getting by on the size of hard disc I currently use. The laptop also has a combo mini video port/thunderbolt 2 port which I use about once every couple of weeks to connect my second backup drive to. I have never, ever used the video port of the port. Nor have I ever used the optical audio port built into the headphone jack.
But I paid for the circuitry and more to support all of those ports as part of the price of the laptop. And I had to pay for those because a small fraction of the other owners of these laptops want them.
I am anxiously waiting for my new Macbook Pro to ship. It will have four USB-C ports. I’m going to have to buy three adaptors in order to use my current accessories with the new machine. Wait, actually, only two. I keep forgetting my external drive uses both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. But those are the only adaptors I will need. And I’m only going to need them for a while, because some of these accessories are even older than my current laptop, and they probably should be replaced pretty soon, before they die on their own at an inconvenient time.
Just as the original USB was a huge improvement over the serial, parallel, and SCSI ports they replaced, USB-C is a big improvement over the others. If you want technology to get better, you have to let go of the older parts. It doesn’t matter how noble horse drawn carriages look nor how jaunty a coachman appears when snapping a buggy whip, no one born in the last 60 years is willing to give up their cars, light rail, heaters and defrosters inside the cars, or streets free of random piles of horse shit because someone misses buggy whips.