Why I'm Ignoring the New iPhone Launch Hype -- And You Should, Too
Meh. I stopped being excited by most new product launch hype, especially about smartphones, a couple of years ago.
Right now, much of the press is abuzz with speculation barely distinguishable from adulation. For instance, The Guardian froths that the new iPhones will "brighten everyone's day," especially with color choices: black, white and "champagne" for the 5S, while the 5C will come in a rainbow of colors and feature a "tough" plastic back.
And while the 5S will probably offer some high-tech bells and whistles like a fingerprint-sensor unlock and faster video capture, it seems unlikely that the new iPhones will feature iOS 7: the long-awaited and much-needed major update to Apple's mobile operating system. Update: iOS7 will indeed be available on the iPhone 5S and 5C.
Way back in June, Apple announced iOS 7 with much fanfare. But otherwise iOS has gotten, sadly, quite stale.
By comparison, the latest Android operating system (4.3 Jellybean) is more slick and fully featured. Even the Windows Phone mobile OS makes the current iOS 6 look hokey and dated. And if Microsoft looks slicker than Apple, something's gone deeply awry in the tech world.
But today, Apple's only iOS 7 news is likely to be the release date. Smartphone product launches have become the most glorified, bloated, saccharine-oozing infomercials of the digital age. Apple's launch event, held in its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, will be beamed around the globe to audiences in Europe and China (although probably not at a Foxconn facility).
At least this should be slightly less over-the-top than Samsung's recent gala affairs, such as their March 14 launch of the Galaxy S4 smartphone -- held in NYC's Radio City Music Hall, complete with cringeworthy musical theater.
All this hoopla might be forgivable if phone vendors were releasing actual new information about new products.
Apple used to be good at generating buzz by keeping secrets. But lately, the most salient features of new Apple products get leaked in advance. Ironically, this week Google proved to be far better than Apple at keeping secrets, with the surprise announcement that the next version of Android will be named not "key lime pie," but KitKat -- through a savvy marketing partnership with Nestle.
Typically, smartphone launch events ramble on about features that aren't compelling to people who might consider buying the phone. (How many times did Apple say "flashlight" during the iOS 7 announcement, anyway?) Meanwhile, they often omit crucial information -- such as the price and carrier availability of the forthcoming devices (like they don't already know).
Or they tend to dance around, or omit entirely, information that consumers care deeply about when deciding which phone to buy, such as whether the battery life reflects hours of actual use, not just resting time. Or whether a wearable device likely to be popular with fitness buffs is at all waterproof.
Big, flashy launch events generate media coverage and may drive device sales, but they generally don't help consumers make better buying decisions. If you rush out to buy a new smartphone simply because it's hyped as the hot new thing -- by the people who are selling it, mind you -- you'll probably end up disappointed in a few months. Because all smartphones have serious tradeoffs, often concerning performance, battery life and ease of use. And because there will always, always, always be a hot new smartphone.
If you want to buy a smartphone you'll actually be happy with, patience pays. Don't wait in line to buy a phone when it first gets released -- and certainly don't pre-order it. Wait until it's been out a few months. Read detailed hands-on reviews -- not of special preview units that vendors provide before launch to select tech news sites, but of phones purchased and used in the real world.
And while you're waiting a few months, it's even possible the price may drop a bit for the phone you want, or that the manufacturer may have corrected some inevitable glitches and missteps in the original release.