Let the pissing match begin

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Competitive markets are the cornerstones of modern economy; the world wouldn’t work without them, and consumers would be much worse off if they didn’t exist. The need to get on top is especially important in today’s economy, and in the tablet market there are more people fighting for a piece of the cake then there are pieces of cake to go around. All of this has made some companies desperate, to the degree that they are doing everything and trying anything to get ahead. Unfortunately, a couple of these companies don’t quite know where the line between clever marketing and desperate behavior goes.

Thank you for waking half the neighborhood, Toshiba!

Just now I was sitting back in my chair reading through RSS feeds on my iPad. I came across an article about Toshiba launching a website (warning: read on before clicking the link)  for their new tablet, and to make a point about Flash support they made the site in Flash. If you visit the site on an iPad (or anything else that doesn’t support Flash) you’re greeted by a message saying “Such a Shame. Add this to the list of the interesting places on the internet you can’t see on your device. Of course, if you had a Toshiba Tablet you would enjoy the entire internet. Yep, Flash sites too”. Ignoring the fact that they’re capitalizing common nouns, forgetting to capitalize proper nouns and skipping a pronoun I still find this message rather idiotic and worthy of a Picard facepalm. Just to prove a point I fired up Teamviewer on the iPad and visited the site using Firefox on my PC, remote controlled from the iPad. I almost fell off the chair as my PC speakers started to blast out some horrible drumroll music that was part of the website’s autoplaying intro video. Keep in mind that this was at 2AM at night, so it’s safe to say that I rushed to make it stop. While you do need h.264 video for the iPad to play it, but at least that means you’ll have a nice and shiny “play”-button there to stop things like this from happening. I’m just glad I wasn’t using my Flash enabled, WIndows 7 powered Viliv S5 at the time as a site this Flash-heavy would definitely freeze it and require a hard reboot.

I then tried to find the specs for this new tablet, but that was easier said than done as everything on the site is Flash and the Flash plugin for Firefox started using 50% of the CPU (at this point I was back at the PC after trying to make the site stop waking my neighbors) trying to handle the menus on the site. I also don’t know who came up with the idea of white text on light gray, light blue and light yellow background but I must admit I had to look a bit harder to find the right animated thingy to click on. Lastly, I must say that I’ve seen many different methods for highlighting the item you’re hovering over on a web page, but rotating the item so you can’t see the text is a new one. When I finally got to the “specifications” page, I was greeted by a picture of the tablet with three pieces of information: it has buttons, it’s an adaptive display, and it’s widescreen. I then noticed another button saying “specifications”, and clicking that one brought up a new page with a few more pieces of information. OS, display, video processor, cameras, and usability. Not exactly the kind of specifications I was looking for, but maybe I’m too geeky. You can check out their specifications page yourself and decide. Unfortunately I can’t link you, as their Flash site doesn’t support hotlinking. I also can’t copy the specs here (wouldn’t take up much space, I assure you) as….well, their Flash site doesn’t support copying text. If you do find it though and are wondering what I was expecting to find, I was expecting to find something along the lines of what you find when you go to the website for the iPad and click on the boring old black-on-white link called “specifications”. I don’t need to tell you how to navigate there from the main page though, since it’s so old and boring that I can just give you a link.  You also don’t have to worry about waking the neighbors either- while they do have promotional videos, you have to choose to play them. Old fashioned, I know, but it’s Apple so you can’t expect them to be as hip as Toshiba.

On a sidenote, this experience did made me think. What would have happened if I had opened the site on a tablet that does support Flash? Aside from a low powered Windows tablet like the S5 of course, which would simply crash. I generally don’t mute my iPad in public places because I know that just surfing the web won’t suddenly make it below from the top of its speakers but if this whole no Flash situations ever changes I guess I have to start doing that. If that ever happens I might have to upgrade my 3G data plan as well; I have a limited number of MB each month and while those are more than sufficient now they won’t last long if all sites become as fancy as the Toshiba one- especially not when it starts buffering large Flash video files without me telling it to.

Mutual destruction in infinite combinations

I apologizing for the lengthy side story, but I think it serves to prove my point that while Flash is by all means a very useful thing to have on any device, there’s a time and place for everything. I think it’s great that there are products out there that take a different stance on the whole Flash thing than Apple does, as even though I’m with Apple on this one I realize that Flash is a big part of many people’s surfing experience and we need products to cater to those people as well. Even without Flash, I find the Xoom and the Toshiba tablet very tempting because of the screen resolution and general hardware. For someone who wants to watch videos on their tablet, there is certainly a lot to be said for widescreen 720p screens. For others, portability is more important, and for others again a physical keyboard might be the deciding factor. “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations”, to quote Spock.

The thing that strikes me about this type of marketing however, is that they directly attack competitors rather than trying to succeed on their own merits. Motorola did the same thing last year with a teaser ad for the Xoom, in which they called the iPad a big iPhone and the Galaxy Tab “Android for smartphones”. The latter was another Picard facepalm-moment in my book as the people they’re trying to reach with these ads are the same people who might not know that there’s a difference between Android 2.2 and 3.0 (mainstream consumers), and so they’re basically devaluing their own product in the ad for it. I did also find it quite ironic that while the iPad now has tens of thousands of iPad-specific apps that turn it into something besides a big iPhone, Android has to start from scratch when 3.0 comes around and build a library of tablet specific app, making the Xoom more of a large smartphone at launch than the iPad was back in December of 2010 when said ad was released. I might be over-thinking these ads, but it seems to me as though they’re trying so hard to piss all over everyone else that they don’t care if they piss their own pants in the process.

All the major devices on the market have up to several advantages over the others, the difference is just what these are. The iPad for example, has several that Android is still far away from matching, like software availability and accessory availability. On the negative side it’s more locked down and (at least the current generation) is lagging behind hardware wise (though that might not be the case in a few weeks). This of course means that the Xoom and the Toshiba tablet (among others) have the advantage of being more open and have better hardware, but seriously lacks third party software support for tablet-optimized software, and good luck trying to find any accessories for it besides the odd case of two. The difference is that Apple doesn’t market the iPad as “like an Android tablet…but with software”. if they actively did that, I’m pretty sure that judging by Apple’s marketing history, that campaign would end up costing Toshiba and Motorola more reputation than they ever gained from their own campaigns. Mutually assured destruction is often the result of game theory which is often used for explaining behavior of competing companies, and the only thing that stops those principles from applying here is that Apple don’t need to use such methods to sell products- they’re doing perfectly fine just by inventing stupid marketing terms like “retina display” and convincing people that a fancy UI somehow equals pure magic.

In the end I don’t know what’s worse, trying to convince customers that a product is better than the competition just because it has a single minor feature the other doesn’t, or trying to convince them that a product is magical (seriously, sometimes I wonder if Steve Jobs is on drugs). Unfortunately, sheep-like mainstream consumers are the ones who end up making these companies big money, not people like you who read tablet sites like NBT and have the ability to look at your own needs and find the device that fits the best based on facts, not propaganda. As long as that’s the case, we’ll continue to have all sorts of “clever” marketing campaigns that my German Shepard would be right in tilting his head at.

Grain of salt? Try a truckload

So what’s my point with all of this? Basically I’ve just grown tired of all the stupid marketing campaigns that these companies come up with in a desperate attempt to get 5 minutes of attention. I feel as though I spend half my time explaining to people why a 0.6 mega pixel smartphone display should not be named after a 100+++ megapixel human eye regardless of how pretty  it looks and the other half fending off crazed Android fanboys who can’t fathom why I choose to study on my locked down iPad when I can play pirated Nintendo games on a choppy Android emulator instead. No one should ever rely on any marketing campaign for their information about a product; to say that the reality presented by the companies behind a product is distorted is like saying that there’s a few trees in the Amazon, so take anything a company says about its own product with a grain of salt. If a genie came to me and granted me one wish, I honestly don’t know whether I’d pick world peace or give people an immunity towards propaganda. Then again, I have a theory that picking the latter would eventually lead to the former happening naturally.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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