As a mobile/wireless beat reporter for CIO.com, I talk to a lot of people about smartphones and mobile gadgets. I talk to device makers, software developers, enterprise users, IT managers, techie geeks who wait in line for days to buy the latest phones, and everyday Joes who care more about their morning bagels than their smartphones.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon that seems to apply to most of these different types of people—albeit to different degrees. I call it Unconditional Smartphone Love, or USL.
USL is the tendency for smartphone owners to proclaim total satisfaction—never disappointment—with their brand new devices, even when doing so doesn’t make sense. (USL seems to lose its grip on people over time, as the newness of gadgets wears thin and more technologically advanced devices are released.)
For example, I’ll ask someone who recently switched from a BlackBerry to an iPhone how they like their new phone and if they miss anything about the old phone. Let’s call the new iPhoner “Chris.”
Me: “So, you finally made the switch to iPhone. What do you think so far?”
Chris: “Oh, I love it. It’s awesome.”
Me: “Do you miss the BlackBerry at all?”
Chris: “Nope, not at all. The iPhone rules.”
Me: “You’ve been using a BlackBerry for years, right? You don’t miss it at all? Not even the keyboard?”
Chris: “Well, yeah, I miss the keyboard. But the iPhone screen is much bigger. And better. And the apps.”
Me: “Do you use a lot of apps? What do you use your phone for most?”
Chris: “I don’t use too many apps, but the ones I do are much better on iOS. I use my phone mostly for social networking and texting. Email sometimes.”
Me: “So you use your phone for messaging, don’t use too many apps, but you don’t miss your BlackBerry keyboard at all?”
Chris: “Well, I guess I do miss the keyboard. But the iPhone keyboard’s not too bad. I just send messages with more typos….”
Me: “So you’re less efficient typing messages, which is what you use your phone for most, but the iPhone rules because it has a bigger screen and more apps that you don’t really use?”
Chris: “No. That’s what it sounds like…but I just like the iPhone more.”
The USL phenom isn’t an iPhone vs. BlackBerry or an Android vs. iOS thing. I just used the example above because so many people are switching from BlackBerry to other platforms right now, and it’s a conversation I have a lot. iPhone-to-Android converts, or vice versa, often show the same symptoms of USL. It’s a human thing, not a platform thing.
I’ve literally had dozens of conversations just like the faux conversation above, and they always amuse me. I think it all comes down to this: Human beings hate to admit they’re wrong. They hate to admit that maybe they made a purchasing decision that wasn’t their best option. If they admit they could have been better off with another smartphone, for whatever reason, they then have to also acknowledge the mistake and live with it for two or more years until they’re eligible for another smartphone upgrade. It’s just easier to ignore the things you don’t like and focus on the good stuff.
Naturally, the less someone cares about their smartphone—the Average Joe consumers mentioned above, for example—the less they’ll exhibit signs of USL. But USL is very real, I assure you, and I see it often when I talk to techies and gadget geeks. Afflicted users will sometimes even recognize it in themselves after they’ve had some time to realize that it’s not a big deal if their smartphone isn’t the best possible device for them. It is just a phone, after all. But the phenomenon isn’t restricted to smartphones; in fact, many people demonstrate the same behaviors after purchasing a new TV, a car or even a house or condo. Nothing tastes as bitter as buyer’s remorse.
So what can we learn from the USL phenomenon? Well, first and foremost, we can easily avoid it by taking the time to research all of our smartphone (or other product) options before purchasing something just because all of our friends use it, a celebrity talked it up on TV or a sales rep impressed us with a seductive pitch.
In other words, don’t make impulse purchases, especially when it comes to products you’ll be stuck with for years. We should also all strive to be open and honest with ourselves about purchasing decisions. Most wireless carriers or smartphone retailers offer return periods for devices, so you could technically return a device you’re not thrilled with only a small restocking fee as a penalty.
If you think you’ve never experienced USL, ask the next person you know about their new smartphone right after they buy it. Nine times out of ten they’ll have nothing negative at all to say. But if you start asking the right questions, or wait just a year, you’ll likely get some different answers.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.