#thoughts: The Perfect Smartphone

The Verge’s Vlad Savov has to be one of my favourite consumer technology journalists at the moment. Whether it’s his call for Google to be boring again, or his desire for “Pro” version of Android, Vlad’s ability to concisely articulate his unique perspective is what makes him one of the most refreshing journalists in the field.

However, his most recent article, “May We Never Find A Perfect Smartphone” had me raising an eyebrow and scratching my head in a disagreement, which was unusual to experience while reading one of his pieces. Essentially, the article can be distilled down to the idea that “The perfect phone doesn’t exist because smartphone innovation moves too fast.”

And I disagree.

Simply put, the idea of a perfect smartphone within itself is inherently flawed if you do so happen to take into consideration the idea that smartphone innovation moves too rapidly. However, that’s approaching the very idea of a “perfect” smartphone as some ultimate device that will continue to sit in your pocket until your on your deathbed. And that’s the wrong way to look at it.

The perfect smartphone can exist, but it can only strictly exist for a small and finite period of time. And it turns out, that time is approximately a year. Conveniently enough, phone manufacturers — in conjunction with carriers — have figured out that users are willing to buy a new phone every one to two years. Realistically, if most users had it their way, they would upgrade their phones every year. However, in most cases, the merely iterative upgrades never entirely justify the cost to do so.

What annoys me most about Savov’s piece is that he seems to believe such a “perfect” phone can’t exist in 2017. It particularly annoys me because Savov actually describes his perfect phone.

In Vlad’s mind, this “perfect” phone would be a beautiful amalgamation of the following: the industrial design and gorgeous screen of the Samsung Galaxy S8, the quad DAC of the LG G6, the camera from Google’s Pixel, and the attention grabbing Solar Red colour of the HTC U11. Oh, and it has a headphone jack too.

There you go, Vlad. With some minor exceptions (I’m sure no one would be opposed to adding the Moto Play’s extraordinary long battery life and water resistance to the list), you just described the perfect phone for this very moment in 2017. I would buy it in a heartbeat. It might not be the perfect phone come 2018. Heck, it might not even be the perfect phone come September. But it could be the perfect phone right now.

So close, yet so far.

This is where my frustration truly lies. This perfect smartphone could exist, yet manufacturers are forever under the impression that users would much prefer features that no majority of user ever asked for, such as 360 degree cameras and 4K screens. Instead of directing this frustration towards the misguided manufacturers, Vlad seems to pull some absurd mental gymnastics when he says, “It’s because we are never allowed to have everything in one single device that we treasure and appreciate it when any phone comes close.”

We could have everything in one device. The manufacturers simply refuse to make it. Instead, they feel it’s better to make delirious choices such as delivering phones with hardware buttons that can only be mapped to the likes of a useless assistant. I must humbly disagree: If such a perfect phone were to exist, I — and many others — would cherish that phone more so than a phone that just comes close.

Yes, you could make the argument that every user has their own set of wants and needs when it comes to their smartphone. And yes, if such a holy grail of a phone were to exist, it probably would cost an absurd amount of money. However, that would be underestimating the delirious passion that can drive phone enthusiasts to make some astoundingly expensive purchases. It might not be the same amount of people flocking to buy the newest iPhone, but I guarantee you this “perfect” smartphone would sell. I’m not a logistics manager, but if Andy Rubin can figure out a way to sell phones made of titanium and ceramic in small numbers, I’m sure someone could figure out a way to manufacture this idealistic device.*

Savov continues hilariously (and frighteningly accurately) alluding to the idea that tech-enthusiasts are on par with drug addicts chasing some kind of endless fix, in stating, “The truth is that what we enjoy is the chase, and we wouldn’t really know what to do if we ever achieved the goal of perfection.”

I can tell you exactly what I would do, because Vlad already told me. I would satisfy the thrill of the chase with my perfect device, and then my chase would continue in 8–12 months time when the active innovation of the smartphone industry would introduce something as simple and eloquent as say, a fingerprint sensor beneath a touch screen.

The entire premise of Savov’s argument is just confounding to me. Is it so wrong to actually enjoy a product while it’s the best option on the market? It’s fun to complain about the “what-could-be’s”, but I thought that part of the beauty of this little geeky passion that we all share, is that these machines ultimately provide us with a dose of nerdy fun. And who could forget the bragging rights?

Imagine telling a tech enthusiast who builds his own PC’s, “No no no, don’t even bother making the most specced out tower — you’ll be missing out on the thrill of the chase.” It’s as if to suggest that we’re never allowed to have a “perfect” product, because the thrill of being a tech fan is that we should always be excited for the future.

And that’s fine, but perfection in consumer technology can exist for a finite amount of time. They just won’t let it.

If Savov reads this, I apologise for the terrible grammatical errors that plague this piece.

* Maybe Andy Rubin can’t figure out a way to produce such a device. On time, at least.