Sticking It to the Phone Buyer

While setting up a new PC over the weekend, I ran through the usual checklist: tweak the operating system, install software, copy over bookmarks and peel off the small stickers that manufacturers think will enhance any glossy surface.

Taking the stickers off took almost as long as everything else, thanks to their particularly strong glue. As I sat trying to remove the stubborn remains, I wondered why PC manufacturers insist on plastering them on every new device. Does anyone even read them? If you’re thinking of buying a laptop, would you be tempted by small notices pointing out that one model had “advanced Dolby super sound” as well as “high-definition palette capability” and an “X4 core processor”?

And which PC isn’t “designed for Windows”? Microsoft’s operating system is on 90 percent of the world’s computers, so it’s rare to find a machine that wasn’t made with Windows in mind. The most notable exceptions are Macs, and Apple seems to be selling plenty without pointing out that they were “designed for OS X”.

The hardware all does roughly the same thing, and PC manufacturers are trying to highlight small differences in their products. I suppose they hope if even one buyer in a thousand is swayed by that extra sticker, it’s worth it.

Mobile phones are also fairly homogeneous. They all make calls and send texts, and that’s what most people use them for. If you want a smartphone, there’s one dominant operating system, and some successful niche players, a bit like the PC market. Yet I wonder how long we’ll have to wait until a phone manufacturer decides to take a leaf out of the PC marketing book and covers its devices in stickers.

If you’re responsible for making that decision — please think again. Most phone buyers want something that does what they ask of it, and don’t worry whether it’s “designed for Symbian” or has “ARM inside”. But I fear my plea might be too late: mobile operating systems, applications and interfaces are becoming less tied to hardware. In few years, the Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile brands may be as well known as Nokia or Samsung, and phone hardware manufacturers may have to resort to the hated sticker.