64-bit: a "marketing gimmick"
Even Apple, a company that in the past tended to focus less on specs and more on overall user experience, is showing signs of falling into this trap. The iPhone 5S’ 64-bit A7 chip is a game-changer, says Apple, but the company can’t seem to articulate precisely why and how. Perhaps there’s a reason for that: Qualcomm senior vice president Anand Chandresekher claims the A7’s 64-bit architecture is no more than a marketing gimmick, because the benefits of 64-bit don’t kick in until a device has more than 4GB of RAM (the iPhone 5S has just 1GB). There’s a sense that Apple included 64-bit just because it could be the first company to do so – and in order to deflect criticism of the iPhone 5S not innovating enough over its predecessor – rather than because there’s a tangible user benefit to it.
It was no surprise to see, just two days after Apple unveiled the 64-bit iPhone 5S, Samsung coming out in public to say that its next generation of flagship smartphones would also boast 64-bit processors.
Some positive signs
This race to appear sexier than the competition is of course nothing new, and competition is essential to ensure that tech companies continue to push boundaries – but when marketing trumps genuine innovation and specs are increased while the user experience remains stagnant, it becomes a worrying issue.
There are signs that some companies still value real-world performance increases over playing the on-paper numbers game, at least in certain aspects of design. The HTC One and iPhone 5S cameras aren’t particularly high on megapixels, but the size of those megapixels and the sensor they sit on is physically larger than on the cameras of rival smartphones, meaning better performance and image quality. That’s something to admire, and I hope it’s a sign that some tech companies aren’t content with going down the easiest route possible – after all, having less megapixels but better performance is a message that has to be conveyed to the consumer clearly, and that’s an added problem when marketing the phone.
The Moto X (sadly not available in the UK) is another example. It doesn't have the highest specifications but it's a joy to use thanks to several minor, but clever, software and hardware touches.
Even at the tip-top end of the market, the £4200 Vertu Constellation only packs a dual-core 1.7GHz processor and 4.7in 720p screen, with Vertu's head of design noting that "most of the time we throttle [the processor] back down. There's absolutely no user case other than scrubbing through video that needs that speed of processing on this phone."
There’s still plenty of innovation happening in the tech world, but I can’t help but feel that there’s the potential for so much more and for it to happen more quickly. But companies need to eschew the path of least resistance, trust the consumer’s intelligence and, in the words of the late Steve Jobs, “think different”.