This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
I’ve always been interested in human nature. I don’t believe we’re inherently good or bad, and although I am a baptized Christian, I’m not very religious. There are however some really strong ideas embedded in almost every holy text around the world and they all tend to be rooted in human nature.
One such powerful concept is the idea of deadly sins. Its origins trace back to Ancient Greece but we’re not here for a history lesson. The point is that these vices are a part of us and they manifest themselves in every part of our lives, including in technology.
Smartphone manufacturers are not the only ones to blame here. Our deepest desires to own something, to obsess over it, are the driving force behind this one. Of course, the modern world is built around consumerism and status, for the most part, so it’s not surprising at all.Every year — hell, sometimes twice a year — companies try to convince you that you need the latest flagship. It’s so much better than the previous model, you must get it! Basically, modern smartphones fuel our lust and while lust is a broad concept, I’m sure there are marketing departments that are consciously working to exploit this part of human nature.
Obviously, gluttony has to be taken metaphorically in this case. When thinking about overindulgence in relation to smartphones two angles come to mind. The first one is more or less the same as sin number one.
As a result of your lust for the latest flagship, or should I say OUR lust (not excluding myself and preaching from the tower of righteousness), we’re left with a huge pile of devices that we actually don’t need. Yes, there are trade-in options and honestly, it’s a valid solution. But there’s another angle to this.
Smartphone manufacturers fuel our gluttony by giving us much more than we actually need. There are phones with 16GB of RAM now, and as I type this article on a 16GB gaming desktop I just can’t help myself but ask – who needs 16GB of RAM on a phone? Games and apps are made to work on the broadest possible number of devices, for the most part.
It’s the same with the crazy camera systems – do we need four lenses on the back? How often would you use a macro lens or even a telephoto? There are depth sensors, monochrome cameras, periscope lenses. I’m sure a solid wide-angle lens would suffice but manufacturers put these nonsensical shooters just for the sake of numbers.
Greed is an obvious one. Smartphone manufacturers are in the business to make money. And while there’s nothing wrong with that — that’s how an economy works — the actual profit margins are ridiculously high.
Samsung and Apple maintain profit margins between 60 and 70% – which is the difference between the production cost and the actual retail price of a smartphone. Of course, you can argue that there are many and complex variables to this equation but the fact of the matter is that the number is very high.
Let’s take a look at OnePlus for a bit. The retail price of the first model was $299, and although I can’t find the real production cost of the phone, sources claim that the profit margin was really thin – in the vicinity of 20-25%. The OnePlus One was a different kind of operation altogether but it shows that phones could be cheaper.
Nowadays though, there’s no trace of OnePlus’ noble idea to offer an affordable flagship device, showing other greedy manufacturers how it’s done. The latest top models of the company are priced just shy of $1000.
It’s my favorite one so far. While I can justify to some extent all of the above, especially in the context of technology, I’m really pissed off when tech companies are lazy with innovations and design. Look at the smartphone design/functionality in the past 5 years. It’s boring and uninspiring. It’s practically the same across brands and devices.
Companies are just too afraid to take a risk and offer a radical product, and it ties to the previous points in this list — profit margins, expected sales — it’s all calculated and low-risk. Some Chinese manufacturers are way more aggressive but it’s part of their expansion strategy, and after a while, they all fall into the same scheme.
I thought that by the year 2021 phones would be really radical and crazy and there would be variety in shapes, sizes, and features. The truth is that companies normalize smartphone design and features. It’s the easiest, cheapest way to operate. And also the laziest. There’s some hope in foldable smartphones but at the moment I’m trying to manage my expectations.
Wrath is a less-obvious sin when it comes to smartphones but I think I can pull this one off. Wrath is about anger and confrontation, and we’ve all seen a fair share of these in the mobile world. Just take a look at Apple and Samsung – both companies have traded punches over the years, with questionable commercials, lawsuits, outright trash-talk from companies CEOs, and more.
Whether this can be counted as wrath, It’s hard to say but there are strong emotions involved when fans of different companies and brands clash. Maybe it’s an inevitable result of competition and people being people – we’re emotional and sometimes irrational.
Another deadly sin that is tightly related to the other ones. Envy, Greed, and Lust go hand in hand. I’ve felt envious of my friends when they paraded around with a new phone. Again, there’s a whole school of marketing and advertising that exploits the psychology of envy.
Companies are also envious of each other. There are endless lawsuits, unethical acquisitions, patent infringements, and all kinds of malicious practices. They’re not limited to the smartphone business, of course, but manifest themselves quite abundantly here.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll use vanity as an example of pride but in a negative context. For me, the ultimate example of vanity in the smartphone industry was the “antenna-gate” with the iPhone 4. Rather than acknowledging the issue, Apple dared to tell customers that they’re holding the phone in the wrong way. It’s the perfect example of the wrong kind of pride if you ask me.
I’m also quite sure vanity brought us curved smartphone displays, as there’s no practical purpose for having them. They’re fragile, distort the image, they make phones uncomfortable and unusable without a case. The same goes for glass on a phone but I’m going too far with this. Phones shouldn’t be ascetic pieces of cheap plastic but they might want to tone it down a bit, too.
Well, there you have it. Some of these are more relevant than others but at the end of the day, there’s one important question to be answered. Would rectifying any of those “sins” make for a better phone? I really believe so! Phones could be cheaper, more durable, and more exciting. After all, they’re just another mirror that reflects ourselves. And we can always strive to be better. A cheesy conclusion, I know.