Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at PandoDaily.com.
Remember Antennagate? Back in the summer of 2010, the brouhaha over reception glitches in the iPhone 4 dominated tech headlines for weeks and led to a class-action lawsuit and a $15-per-user settlement. In retrospect, the controversy seems meaningless, which is why I thought of it amid the current flap over Apple Maps.
Apple will survive the Maps controversy, just as it weathered Antennagate. But there is another trend affecting Apple that the announcement of the iPhone 5 revealed, a larger trend that will take much longer to play out: Smartphones are becoming too similar for their own good.
Only five years after Apple refashioned the smartphone with its touchscreen and its iOS software, smartphones are becoming a commodity. Any must-have feature that distinguishes one phone from the pack is quickly adopted by the pack itself. Fandroids and Apple fanboys will always argue passionately about which phone is superior, but for mainstream consumers, it’s getting harder to see that one brand’s phone is better than the others.
When an industry becomes commoditized, there is less differentiation between the products being sold. Brands stop being so much of a driving force in consumer decision as low price becomes the paramount factor. Lightbulbs are consumer commodities, as are cheap foodstuffs like ramen and staples like salt.
Laptops and desktops have become commoditized over the past decade. It started with Dell, which used just-in-time supplies and customization to make its PCs a low-cost household item. But as others began to replicate Dell’s successful business practices, Dell became just another PC maker. And consumers learned to see that price was really the biggest differentiator among brands.