Playing the Great Spec Game

September 18th, 2012

Predictably, Samsung has begun to run a series of ads countering the iPhone 5 onslaught. But Samsung appears to be falling into a serious trap, believing that having better specs, or more of them, is sufficient to get a leg up on Apple.

Now there’s nothing wrong with healthy competition. It would be foolish to expect Samsung to sit back and allow Apple to triumph without making a reasonable attempt to state a case in favor of the Galaxy phone du jour. Obviously, their marketing people will use any ammunition they have to make it seem as if the iPhone 5 is second or third best, but I wonder how many customers care.

Consider the new Samsung print ad that is entitled, “It doesn’t take a genius.” Now when I look at the ad, I do think Samsung shot themselves in the feet, or maybe they just don’t get it. The ad compares the supposed specs of the iPhone 5 against the Galaxy S III. In some ways the Samsung does seem to beat the iPhone, such as having a larger screen and more talk time. It’s also, of course, larger and heavier.

Some of the comparisons sound dumb, such as calling Apple’s Lightning connection port, “A totally different plug,” compared to Samsung’s use of a standard micro-USB plug. The ad doesn’t actually state the advantages of one over the other. There are also a handful of apparent OS features that Samsung feels do not exist in the iPhone 5, but it appears that Apple fans have already pointed out that the claims are just plain wrong. The ad also fails to explain why any of these features, assuming they are correctly listed, offer any real advantages to the Galaxy III’s usability and performance.

Do we really crave “Palm Touch Mute Pause”? Does anyone care?

This is the same logic that attempts to convince you that a quad-core processor must be twice as fast as a dual-core, even though OS requirements, system and chip optimizations may actually make what appears to be the slower processor seem faster than what seems to be the more powerful chip.

Even then, the results, whatever they may be, might be misleading. So we have an unofficial Geekbench report that claims the iPhone 5 is not only at least twice as fast as any previous iOS gadget, but about as fast as the speediest Android device. That might be good for bragging rights, but it doesn’t answer the core question, which is the customer’s perception of performance. If the OS is snappy and properly tuned for maximum touch response, things will feel faster even if the processor is, itself, technically slower. In other words, such comparisons will only tell part of the story.

In passing, it does seem that one scheme Android handset makers have used to deal with lagging touch response is brute force. More powerful processors with more RAM will compensate, in part, for OS inefficiencies. The last Android phone I tried, a Samsung with a forgettable model number, seemed responsive enough, though the interface still felt ragged and abrupt rather than smooth. That’s the sort of effect you can’t tune with a hammer.

Now this doesn’t mean that Apple shouldn’t have added more features to the iPhone 5, or made different decisions about how some features were executed. Take LTE support for Sprint and Verizon Wireless. The reasons are complex, but it comes down to the fact that you cannot talk and access data at the same time on a cellular network, the same problem that existed with the older CDMA networks. It seems that the implementation of LTE by Sprint and Verizon Wireless doesn’t support voice, and handling both simultaneously would have required some engineering compromises. I have studied up on the raw details, and it seems it would have meant another baseband chip, and perhaps a third antenna. Regardless, the downsides don’t seem to be serious enough for most customers, I gather.

I also suppose an argument can be made in favor of NFC support, a near field radio broadcasting scheme that would allow for such things as tapping rather than swiping credit cards. Apple VP Philip Schiller is quoted as saying, “It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem. Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today.”

All right, that’s a spin, perhaps, but I’ve heard more than one claim that NFC is troublesome in practice, and sometimes doesn’t work. I would also worry about security issues, particularly if someone steals your iPhone. But that would be true with any sensitive information you might have on any mobile device.

Now the public has apparently shown incredible enthusiasm about the iPhone 5. Apple reports two million preorders the very first day, and that means that several million more may be sold by next week, after the launch weekend. With record sales, Apple has nothing to worry about, and if iPhone 5 sales continue at record levels after the initial furor dies down, specsmanship games from Samsung and other companies won’t count for very much.

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2 Responses to “Playing the Great Spec Game”

  1. AdamC says:

    Didn’t the fanatics said the face plate is the best phone and even the pundits are saying it was massive.

    The saddest part is they can’t see the forest for the tree that is the Apple ecosystem which is united by the OSes and iCloud.

    Perhaps they had been blinded by their hate.

  2. javaholic says:

    The Samsung ad is amusing but typically pretty skin deep. When I’ve read a few forums where users are sounding off, defending their purchase choice, the Android camp promote very spec driven arguments: “My screens bigger than yours”, “I have NFC and you don’t”. It’s that belief that everything including the kitchen sink makes a ‘better’ product. It’s amazing to see people regressing into this old ‘bragging rights’ war over all things, a cell phone. Reminds me of the nasty old Mac v PC debates 15 years ago.

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