Josh Topolsky takes on iPhone "class warfare"

Josh Topolsky, a talented writer I enjoy reading who now heads up operations at The Verge, penned a forum post on Thursday lambasting what he felt was a pompous viewpoint in MG Siegler’s review of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

I don’t own a car nor have I ever owned car. Indeed, I make my way around town by using old-fashioned public transportation. What’s more, I don’t even know much about cars. If you have any questions about the bus or train schedule in Chicago, though, I’m your guy.

But on a few rare occasions, I've had the opportunity to ride in a Mercedes. And as someone with absolutely no background in automobiles, I was blown away by the entire experience. The entire interior was sleek and thoughtfully designed, and the ride itself was unbelievably smooth. It was certainly a step up from any other car I had ever been in or have been in since.

Josh Topolsky, a talented writer I enjoy reading who now heads up operations at The Verge, penned a forum post on Thursday lambasting what he felt was a pompous viewpoint in MG Siegler’s review of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The problem? Siegler compared the iPhone to a Mercedez and Android phones to a Honda.

Unfortunately, the system still lacks much of the fine polish that iOS users enjoy. The majority of Android users will probably think such criticism is bullshit, but that has always been the case. I imagine it’s probably hard for a Mercedes owner to describe to a Honda owner how attention to detail makes their driving experience better when both machines get them from point A to point B.

And that’s what inexplicably set Topolsky off.

Calling Siegler’s description a “pompous, privileged, insulting, and myopic viewpoint which reeks of class warfare”, Topolsky exclaims that viewpoints like Siegler are ultimately damaging to the tech community.

Topolsky finds Siegler’s analogy offensive, inferring that Siegler thinks expensive items are inherently better than similar items at cheaper prices. Further, Topolsky is insulted by Siegler’s allegedly implicit assertion that a rich person would have trouble explaining “to a middle- or low-income person why expensive things are empirically better.”

Siegler’s comment has absolutely nothing to do with class warfare.

Indeed, the Android smartphone reviewed by Siegler is more expensive than the entry-level iPhone 4S for crying out loud! 

To interpret Siegler’s review as a referendum on class makes absolutely no sense.

What Siegler is actually saying is that it’d be hard for someone who places a premium on arguably irrelevant features like the wood grain in a dashboard to explain the benefits of a Mercedes to someone who just needs a car to get from point A to point B. Similarly, touting the polish of an iPhone to someone who only wants to use their smartphone to surf the web and talk on the phone is a losing proposition.

It goes without saying that consumers weigh certain factors differently when looking at what kind of product to buy. With respect to cars, some folks may care more about gas mileage than the steering wheel design on a luxury sedan. Some may care more about safety than a car that can go from 0-60 in just 1.7 seconds.

By highlighting the polish of the Mercedes, or the iPhone in this case, Siegler places a special emphasis on the overall user experience.

What's the big deal?

Topolsky writes:

For starters, it assumes a childish, simplistic, and pedantic worldview: expensive things or those that are ascribed more value by a segment of the population are inherently "better" than other things. Obviously everyone wants and needs the more expensive thing if they have an opportunity to get it. The Mercedes really is better than the Honda.

It assumes that given the situation, you would always choose the more expensive item, and that your needs or wants couldn't possibly be out of alignment with the features or luxury offered by a more expensive product.

Siegler never claims that the iPhone is superior because it’s more expensive. Indeed, it’s not. Further, Mercedes are well regarded for their exquisite attention to detail and brilliant engineering, not their high price tag. If anything, the latter is the result of the former.

Siegler places a premium on products that demonstrate extreme attention to detail. If Topolsky is so outraged by Siegler’s Mercedes to Honda comparison, he’d be better served by pointing out the myriad of ways in which the Galaxy Nexus is actually as thoughtfully designed and detail oriented as the iPhone.

And again, Siegler does not state or even hint that there would be no reason to ever go with an Android over an iPhone. I mean, if someone cares about an "open" platform and features like a removable battery, I doubt even the most fervent of Apple fans would suggest an iPhone. 

Besides, comparing Apple products to premium products is nothing new. As far back as I can remember, Apple fans used to defend the Mac in the face of abysmal marketshare by pointing out that luxury cars like the Porsche and BMW have similarly poor marketshare.

Was that pompous behavior as well?

“More insultingly,” Topolsky continues,” it suggests that as a person who is not part of whatever elite group MG believes exists, you couldn't even really understand why the Mercedes is superior.”

It has nothing to do with being elite and everything to do with personal preference. I fail to see the appeal and "superiority" of 3D HDTVs not because I'm a lowly serf, but rather because watching TV in 3D is absolutely pointless in my opinion. That particular feature means nothing to me.

Similarly, the polish cited by Siegler may mean absolutely nothing to armies of Android fans who can't stand Apple's dictatorial grip on the iTunes App Store. And all the more power to them.

Topolsky concludes:

I don't disagree with Gruber and MG. The iPhone is an amazing device. But it's not the only amazing device, and I wouldn't want to live in a world where it is.

Let's not let our preferences (and that's all they are, preferences, not empirical facts) dictate how we think about and relate to other people.

Not seeing it is not the issue — the issue is not being able to see it any other way.

But Siegler is trying to see it the other way, albeit with Apple colored glasses perhaps.  He’s giving the Galaxy Nexus an honest go-around and he ultimately isn’t a fan because he thinks its lacks the polish that the iPhone has. Explaining his iPhone loving ways to Android users who love everything about the Android experience is challenging and is why the blogosphere is so quick to shout "fanboy!" whenever someone expresses an opinion they disagree with.

The issue here boils down to personal preferences regarding varying smartphone options and nothing more. 

So would I ever buy a Mercedes? No. They’re too expensive and I don’t care about “polish” when it comes to cars, though again, it does make for a silky smooth ride. You can try and convince me, though, that the premium pricetag on a Mercedes is justified and worth every penny, but I have to warn you, you might find it hard to persuade me.

Either way, that doesn't make you an elitist.

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