Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 30, 2012

Guest Opinion:

Technology is not a fashion statement

by Utkash Dubey

Technology should serve one clear purpose: to make life simpler. But as consumer-targeting tech giants release more and more goodies, it is inevitable that at some point the newest mobile gadget will be more costly than it is beneficial, and the corporate aims surpass true technical progress.

Regardless, consumer demand is higher than ever. Increasing the public's demand for the most generic products turned "techy," most notably, phones and computers, no longer seems to be the result of technological advancements, smarter implementation or innovation. In fact, more and more often I see long lines of people outside local tech outlets waiting for a product they do not even remotely know about. For the majority, price expectations and practical utility are no longer considered in the purchasing process. Instead, having the latest gizmo has become a social statement.

Take the newest iPhone 5, for example. It has a larger screen size, it does the same processes in about 80 percent of the time that the "old" iPhone 4S did, and it got a bit of a software upgrade. Apart from that, there are not any major ramifications that the new iPhone has over its predecessors. It sounds great in an advertisement that depicts simplicity and beauty, but practically, the product is just not worth the money.

Spending $700 (or, god forbid, more) for this kind of product makes it sound like we are paying more for the prestige, style and sleekness than we are for the functionality. But the last time I checked, phones were not the main attraction on the runway.

This is not limited to just phones. New products such as the Macbook Air sacrifice performance and utility for ... weighing less. That's comparable to sacrificing a limb to avoid tipping the scale. If carrying an extra pound of USB ports, a larger hard drive and more space for RAM is a physical feat, I would suggest seeing a doctor. But despite the apparent impracticality of the product, it generates much more revenue for Apple. And Apple is not the only one at fault here — the company is simply catering to the majority of consumers who want to be able to show off the half-pound laptop.

By the same logic, Microsoft and Internet Explorer are taking steps to meet this ridiculous consumer mentality. For example, Microsoft introduced Windows 7, although realistically it does not offer much more to the average user than incredibly better speeds and, of course, better visual appeal. Internet Explorer took it a step further: IE9 now features "a more beautiful web," according to its marketing campaign, rather than bragging about the break-neck speeds that barely trump Chrome. These almost make it seem like companies are hiring artists and firing engineers.

To push back for a functionality revolution is simply not feasible, but it also does not make sense to further delve into a mentality that abandons innovation for the sake of minor style changes. As consumers, we need to push for real products, and do quality research before arbitrarily deciding on the newest tech gadget. Corporate aims will accordingly change to meet consumer demands, and the push for innovation — not what looks sleek — will follow. Let's not forget that this mentality is what brought about the dotcom boom. Given the state of the economy, I don't think that the idea has any chance at getting rejected.

Utkash Dubey is a student at Gunn High School and wrote this piece for the Gunn Oracle.

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