I’d like to float a radical notion, sparked by this week’s kerfuffle over Apple’s new 64-bit A7 chip and "cheating" on Android benchmarks: Despite the frantic pace of innovation over the past few years – or maybe even because of it – modern smartphones are now far more alike than different. As the platforms learn from each others' successes and failures, the similarities among iPhone and Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, in all their permutations, have become much more fundamental than the relatively minor ways they try to differentiate themselves.
Even more importantly, that’s actually a good thing: the incredibly high base level of function and convenience they’ve brought to more than a billion people has changed the world.
Apple fanboys vs. Android geeks
Sure, the Apple fanboys and Android geeks still argue incessantly over their favorite’s relative merits. But the truth of the matter is that obsessing over whether iOS7's new flat design is a great leap forward or a big step backward is pretty much the definition of a "first-world problem." I mean, we’re arguing over fonts, for heaven's sake.
If you take even a single step back, literally, my point becomes obvious. Just about every modern smartphone is a hand-sized slab of glass, plastic, and metal, with a touchscreen surrounded by a few buttons. From 10 feet away, you can’t really tell one from the other. Sure, the actual sizes may vary, a little, and some come in colors – ooooh, talk about changing the world!
Gizmodo once put these smartphones up against each other for other purposes, but could you name them if you tried?
They all do pretty much the same things, too: phone calls, web browsing, messaging, GPS, media players, and so on. Some have more apps than others, but even the most threadbare "app store" still offers multiple ways to do everything really important. It just may not be your preferred method, or it might take a few extra clicks or a few extra seconds. Can’t play Angry Birds on your BlackBerry? Boo-freaking-hoo.
Specs are irrelevant
They’ve all got similar processors and screens, to the point where many phone makers don’t even bother disclosing the speeds-and-feeds specs anymore. That’s why arguing over A7’s 64-bit architecture and Android benchmarks misses the point. Sure, some phones do some things faster than others, and no one likes to wait. But only the most devoted propeller heads have a clue as to what chip is in which phone, much less how fast it operates. Similarly, I defy you to estimate screen resolution just from looking at it.
Over the years, I’ve used enough phones on all the major platforms to realize that if only one of them existed, the world’s productivity likely wouldn’t take a significant hit. More to the point, if you stepped out of 1999 and someone handed you any one of them you’d be thrilled and amazed at all it can do and how easily it does it. In many ways, the religious battles between iPhones and Android come down to fashion and marketing, not ultimate value.
I’m not saying people and companies shouldn’t pay attention to which smartphone they choose. Newer models run faster, offer faster connections and more features. Some platforms are more secure than others, and one may be noticeably better at a particular task of special importance to you. Battery life matters, too. And who am I to dismiss the power of fashion and status symbols?
But here’s the bottom line. Carrying any smartphone can make a huge difference in your work and life. Which one it happens to be…not so much.