Just a few months ago, smartphone buyers were typically able to choose from just a small number of colors or variations of a device. It didn’t matter where the products were bought, as they were often sold for roughly the same price by wireless carriers, retailers, and online stores.
That’s starting to change as companies like Motorola Mobility experiment with smartphones that can be purchased in a mind-bogglingly large number of variations, and sellers like Walmart and Sprint undermine standard prices to attract customers. The smartphone industry is starting to resemble the PC industry it’s fought so valiantly to slay.
Shopping for a new computer has long featured the price variations and customizations that are only now appearing in the smartphone market. Retailers sold devices for different prices — and with different but uniformly costly warranties — and manufacturers differentiated their products from the competition’s with new colors and designs.
Case in point: the Dell Inspiron 10, a netbook released just as the category began its steady decline into obsolescence. Dell marketed the laptop primarily through its many colors, aurally assaulting the minds of anyone unfortunate enough to hear its “Lollipop” commercial when it played seemingly every five minutes.
It came in pink. It came in blue. It came in green and red and yellow, much like the Moto X or the newly-announced iPhone 5c. (The “c,” fittingly enough, is thought to stand for “color.”) Smartphones have reached a point where the category is established well enough that devices are able to compete simply by replacing the black-or-white backplates of last year with new, neon-colored that let everyone know that the owner has the newest device.
And then there’s sellers’ ability to set their own prices for smartphones, a new trend that, as Bloomberg Businessweek notes, is particularly surprising given Apple’s strict price control policies. Buyers used to be able to purchase an iPhone for either $99 or $199, depending on the model. Now the prices vary depending on where the device is purchased, with both Walmart and Sprint offering discounts to entice new customers.
Andy Warhol’s quote about cans of Coke used to be one of my favorite look-I-made-this-classic-quote-apply-to-technology quotes:
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
It seems that that quote is no longer quite so relevant. People aren’t purchasing all-too-similar devices at standard prices anymore — they’re purchasing colorful, customizable products at a variety of prices, just like they used to buy computers that don’t fit in their pockets.
[Image via Thinkstock]