The Smartphone Spectrum

Market Segments

Do you think about what category your smartphone is in? Like, does it really matter to you if your phone is a “flagship?” Maybe that term doesn’t even register. You might be like, “Um, I have a Samsung.” Or, “It’s an iPhone.” Fair enough!

Well, I nerd out about this stuff sometimes, like when I switched from iPhone to Android about a month ago. After being in the market for a while and doin’ some prospectin’, I knew I wanted a “mid-range” or even a “budget” phone. Money still doesn’t grow on trees, right?


Fuzzy Lines

As I looked on the web at phones, I wondered at times, just what exactly is a mid-range phone? Where do you draw the line between budget and mid-range? Is it by price alone? That would be convenient, say $0-$300 is budget, $300-$600 is mid-range, and flagship is $600+. Or does the mid-range start at $250? I don’t know.

Maybe budget Android phones are ones with a Snapdragon 4xx series CPU, and mid-range ones are Snapdragon 6xx class, then flagships have the 8xx Snapdragons. That’s simple enough. Oh, but then what about the Exynos CPUs? And the MediaTek CPUs? Where would those fit along the spectrum of specs?

You see, it’s not easy to define neat little boundaries for phones. The lines between them are too fuzzy. You might be wondering what the point is anyways. Who cares about what classification or category your smartphone is in? It’s just a phone.

Well, nerds care. Tech folks, like me, with an affinity for gadgets geek-out about this sort of thing. But you probably care about it too, more than you might realize. At least I know I’m not the only one.

Central Article

As it turns out, an author just wrote about this very thing! The article is on Android Central. It declares that the “mid-range” moniker makes no sense anymore and the way we categorize phones is confusing if not flawed. I both agree and disagree.

The author, Andrew Martonik, elaborates well on the nuances of smartphone specs, features, and costs. You know, all the things you and I consider when we think about buying a smartphone. The author is on-point when he talks about how the variety in phones makes it too difficult to neatly distinguish them into categories. He says,

“We’re just going to have to deal with the fact that there’s actually nuance in the comparison of phones that reaches well beyond grouping them into these big categories based on a couple of specs or features”

Andrew Martonik

So how do we categorize smartphones and how is that flawed? It’s simply a 3-tier system of high, middle, and low. That translates to “flagship,” “mid-range,” and “budget.” These are the three buckets Martonik addresses,

“for some reason technology enthusiasts are eager to put phones into buckets…”

Andrew Martonik

Well, it’s not just tech nerds like me who categorize phones. It’s human nature to organize things, make sense out of madness, bring order to chaos. If there’s a pattern to something, however subtle or murky, humans tend to find it. And it’s normal to group similar things together. The trick is finding the small distinctions among the similar. If you do that well, then you’ll have clearly defined buckets, or tiers, for phones.

Of course, complexity makes this hard, like when smartphones overlap. For example, what does the new-ish term, “Value Flagship” even mean? So keeping things simple makes categorizing easier. And the 3-tier system is just right, neither too few nor too many categories.

So how should we distinguish the nuances of the mid-range smartphone segment, you know, so we can add clarity? Adding more tiers or sub-categories beyond the three we have would make the system more complex and disturb the balance.

For example, since phones broke the $1K barrier, it seems there is a new 4th tier. It was like: Budget $0-300, Mid-Range $300-600, and Flagship $600-1000. Now we add Luxury $1000-1500! We could sub-divide the high-end into say three types of flagships: Value Flagship, Premium, and Luxury. But do you think that would really help?

We should stick with the 3-tier system, however muddy, because it’s the easiest for most people to naturally understand. We just need to remember that the categories are broad or general, so by definition there is nuance to make among the blurred tiers.

If we don’t simply accept this, we might need a Venn diagram to visualize our smartphone buckets. This would be fun for nerds, but normal people are just going to end up making two decisions when they buy a phone: is it a Samsung or iPhone? And what’s the monthly bill?

As Martonik astutely observed, beyond mere specs, a phone has other merits that appeal to people’s personal preferences. Brand plays into that too, thanks to marketing. But price is the bottom line. This is what people naturally weigh.

This gets back to why it is natural to classify phones purely by price. It’s reductive, maybe over-simplifying, but simplicity is a virtue, so you can understand why we do this.


Meet In The Middle

For most everybody, I don’t think it’s time to stop saying a phone is “mid-range.” Just keep in mind that the mid-range is a range; it’s a broad and general category. And that’s okay. Some phones overlap; no big deal.

For us tech nerds who like more distinction when organizing, I get it. Our 3 pound brains want some clear lines! We want to define absolute categories. Every tech thing should fit neatly into a single place, like ones and zeros in a computer. Then our analytical minds will be satisfied. So until the smartphone buckets make more sense, we’ll keep writing articles like this.

Maybe it would help if we stopped calling our smartphones phones and instead just called them computers.


Where would you draw a line for the mid-range? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Hello Moto G Power

A week ago, Motorola announced new phones for the US in 2020. Good timing, because I was about to run out and buy last year’s Moto G7. Oh, by the way, I plan to switch from iPhone back to Android. Call it ludicrous, or call it liberating…wait, it’s just a phone that you can call.

Two phones in particular were revealed: Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power. I’m focusing on the G Power. On paper, this thing is surprising. How can Moto offer so much for so little? For a mere $250, you get: about 3 days worth of battery life on a single charge, a macro camera, an ultra-wide camera, a wide camera, a 6.4” full HD screen, dolby tuned stereo (dual) speakers, a microSD card slot, splash resistance, and near stock Android 10! And of course the Moto G Power has the basics down: 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, Snapdragon 665.

Flagship phones today cost over $1,000! But you can get a truly great phone for just $250! The value here is possibly unmatched. Moto has been making good budget to mid-range phones for years. Initial impressions of the Moto G Power are promising. Once full reviews are in, I’ll probably process several of them to be sure this new phone isn’t just smoke and mirrors before running out to buy one.

The only hard thing now is to wait until the Spring, maybe mid-April, when the phone goes on sale. My iPhone 7’s days are dwindling. It’s great, but I’m ready for an upgrade, and for a switch to Android.


Do you plan to get a new phone for 2020? Do you like the Moto G series? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Are App Subscriptions Suboptimal?

Like death by a thousand cuts, nobody likes to feel nickeled and dimed1 by numerous subscription payments seeping from their bank account every single month. I wrote against subs recently. Today, I’m writing for subs.


The Customer View

Back In The Day

What I have in mind are subscriptions to apps. As an end-user who started with computers in the last millennium, all I used to know was purchasing programs in a box from a physical store. How quaint.

You paid one fee, one time, up front. Done.2

Also note, the typical price of a program often felt like you needed a gold nugget to afford it. Photoshop was like $600! And it didn’t even come with a computer – that was “sold separately.”

Nowadays

Then the iPhone happened. And the App Store3. It’s basically your computer now, and you buy software from the store that’s on it. Think, “Different.”

Besides not getting a box with a disk in it, now apps don’t cost hundreds of dollars. Most are measured in cents!4 Did the iPhone make software creation so simple that it can be done dirt cheap? One might think that. I wouldn’t know; I aint no developer.


The Developer View

Thinking About Subs

Recently, my thinking and feelings started to change about subscription pricing.

I’m trying an app for writing called Ulysses5. It’s popular in the Apple community, and it used to be one you could just pay for one time, up front, and be done. But it changed to a subscription model, which is suboptimal to some.

The Ulysses team spent a long time carefully contemplating the switch. They explained in an eye-opening article what led to their decision to go full-sub.

The reasons were compelling to me. I now understand why an app might require a subscription fee. Basically, with the way things work in the app store and with the true cost of creating good apps, a sub model makes sense.

My thinking about subs is now more aligned with a developer’s perspective.

It’s kinda like subsidizing the pre-development cost plus the continued development costs into small payments over time. Making an app isn’t cheap. And making an app better also takes considerable resources – people’s time and talent.

I understand how John Voorhees on MacStories put it:

Pay-once pricing is not sufficient to sustain ongoing development of professional productivity apps like Ulysses. While Ulysses has enjoyed success, funding the kind of development that pro users expect through growing the app’s user base is not sustainable in the long-term.

Long-time Apple blogger John Gruber summed it up well:

I think subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS).

For more developer perspective, I also found on MacStories an interview with an Adobe Designer, Khoi Vinh. He had a good explanation of the subscription model:

The apps are cross-platform, they’re internationalized, they go through a heavy QA. We spend a lot of time thinking about how apps work for enterprise and for individuals. So, it’s a huge investment.

Now, in the pre-subscription world, when we were selling perpetual licenses, we had to basically charge for the complete value of all that. With the subscription model, you can pay for a month, or you can pay for 24 months, you can sign on and sign off.

…the value equation is very different from perpetual licensing, but we believe it’s more accessible for more people in general and makes sense for more businesses.

Feeling About Subs

Even though I have a new and, I think, better understanding about subscription payments, that doesn’t necessarily mean I feel good about them. Instead, I still sorta feel I’m giving in to being nickeled and dime, like my expensive coffee keeps getting pilfered from my hand. These sneaky micro-payments add up!

To assuage those feelings, I have some things that help.

When there is an option to pay annually instead of monthly, I recommend and prefer that. The reasons are simple. Getting hit with a payment only once a year feels more like a one-time payment, not a repeated dinging on your checking account. And most of the time, the annual payment has the added incentive of being a lower cost overall. So you pay less, and you pay less oftenwin-win!6

The other thing that helps is simply being mindful of the fact that an app typically deserves more credit than you might think. As mentioned, it takes a lot of people’s time and talent to create a good app. For me, I recall the price of programs in the past: $600 for Photoshop. $300 for Adobe Lightroom. $250 for Office. And then there is AutoCAD for thousands!!7


If you have struggled to understand or appreciate the subscription model for software, I urge you to read the explanation about why Ulysses adopted it.

On a tangent, I still feel less inclined to subscribe to digital entertainment as opposed to software. While it does take time and talent to make good movies, TV shows, and video games, there is simply an over-abundance of “free” entertainment “out-there.”8


Have you thought about subscriptions for software? What do you like/dislike? Has your mind changed? Comment below or write to me. Thanks for reading!

  1. Sorry for being a bit dramatic there. Making a point in a hook.
  2. It was called “perpetual licensing” as opposed to the perpetual payments of the subscription model.
  3. Aren’t you glad they did not call it The Program Store?
  4. Usually just 99 of them.
  5. Half-way through the free trial, I am really liking the app. This post was written and published from it. As of now, I plan to subscribe to it. Check it out!
  6. Dub it “PLO-PLO.” Pay less overall. Pay less often.
  7. By day, I’m a professional AutoCAD user. If I want just the “Lite” version at home, it used to always cost over $1,000! Or I can now subscribe for a more reasonable monthly fee of $50/mo. And since it’s always being updated annually, it kinda feels sensible to pay monthly in perpetuity.
  8. Online entertainment is either ad-based in revenue or has other ways to cover costs. For example, YouTube has ad-supported videos. Amazon Prime video is covered in a unique way. From my simple view, I pay for 2-day shipping and get free Prime video.

The Longevity Of Apple Tech

Thanks to Apple’s recent news about slowing iPhone sales, it’s apparent that people don’t upgrade their phones as often as they used to. Until last week, the device I used was over four years old. I upgraded from an iPhone 6 to a brand new…iPhone 7! Wait, but that phone is like two years old.

That’s right. And it’s a great upgrade! I would say that Apple’s phones are so good and bleeding edge that a 2-year old iPhone is still a fantastic device. And that’s why it seems so many people are keeping them instead of breaking the bank to buy a fancy new iPhone XS or XR. They’re just too expensive.

I like to buy used Apple stuff. You get great value and save a lot of cash. Last year, I bought a used iPad Air 2, a three-year old tablet at the time. And I’m still enjoying it today; I typed this blog post on it. It still works great! And I look at the shiny new iPad Pros and think they’re way too costly and they don’t really do anything that my iPad Air 2 doesn’t do. So why bother to upgrade?

As for my iPhone 6, I had planned to use it for one more year before upgrading, which would have made it five years old! But it recently began performing much slower than usual. I tried deleting apps, but that didn’t help.

While visiting friends over the Christmas holiday, it turned out that they had an “old” iPhone 7 not being used anymore, and they simply said they would let me have it! Wow! I gladly accepted the unplanned upgrade from a 6 to a “new” 7. And as a thank you, I gladly gave them a chunk of money for it.

Here’s something to note: I plan to use this iPhone 7 for at least two more years, which would make it four years old before I once again upgrade. Maybe by then the iPhone XR will sell at a low used price of around $250!

You can have great tech gadgets and not have to spend a fortune! iPhones and iPads, at least in the US where I live, are ubiquitous. There’s always someone somewhere upgrading and selling their current device.

If you stay 2 years behind the bleeding edge of Apple tech, I’d say you’re not really “behind.” You are just not “ahead” of the rest. You’re pretty much right in line with mainstream tech. It’s a very good and reasonably affordable place to be.

How old is your current smartphone? Let me know!

Thanks for reading,

-Jason

Take Time To Make Time

I was going about my normal day recently when a familiar phrase came into my mind, “So little time…” I took a break from my work at home and had been thinking about how much there was left to do. Then I quickly starting noting other projects that I needed to start—there’s so much! I was lamenting how little time there is to do ‘all the things.’

We’ve all been there. That’s why there is the saying, “So little time, so much to do.”

Back In Time

I began to wish for more time and wondered how I might be able to get it. As I thought, one of my favorite quotes from The Matrix Reloaded came to mind. It was during the Merovingian’s diatribe when he said, “…but then if we never take time how can we ever have time?” Such a simple concept!

Time was spoken of as a material resource you could put in your pocket or store up in the bank. How nice it would be if time were so tangible because maybe then we would use it more sparingly. But when you really think about it, we can budget our time more wisely just like we budget our money. We can be frugal with our time.

Just because time is not a tangible thing, it doesn’t mean we will have trouble budgeting it. We already know how to budget the immaterial. Case in point: money today has become digital currency and many of our transactions happen online in our ever-increasing cashless society. Money is increasingly intangible like time; they’re just numbers.

After my memory of The Matrix quote, my mind went further back in time to none other than a little monologue by hero Marty McFly! In Back To The Future he said, “If only I had more time…wait a minute, I have all the time I want, I’ve got a time machine..!

black and white photo of clocks
Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on Pexels.com

If only we had more time. If only we had a time machine! Well we can’t travel through time–other than straight forward from present to future at the speed of about one second per second. And we can’t create a machine that somehow creates more time for us like it’s a tangible object. So what can we do? Go back to The Matrix.

Take Time To Make Time

We have so many things that take up our time. We must take our time back from those things by taking those things out of our lives. Go minimalist!

If you want to have time to do ‘all the things’, you must redefine what ‘all the things’ refers to. Do we really need to do everything that we think we do? This is nothing other than classic time management. We’ve got to practice prioritizing our time for only the most important things; do only the best things.

The best to-do is to do the best.

To have more time, minimize or remove from your life all the things that are just a time-suck. But you must recognize what’s wasting your time. I categorize daily life into three broad areas that we need time for: sleep, work, and play.

It would be nice and simple if we could just give 8 hours evenly to each time category; life is not that easy. Often, we find ourselves wasting a lot of time playing instead of working. It’s easy to get distracted when looking up one thing on the web and then a half-hour later…look at the time! Entertainment and social media: big time-sucks.

De-Clutter Your Calendar

In your own life, take some time to budget your time! Come to think of it, a line-item at the top of your Time Budget Worksheet should be, “Budget Time.” It would be helpful to write it out in front of you to see your time more concretely.

You could do this simply by calendaring. Just don’t book your schedule too tightly. Make “appointments” in each day for “white space” or time cushions. We need both downtime as well as uptime. Again: sleep, work, and play. It’s okay to schedule a blank space or a block of time for nothing on your calendar!

We need to reverse the saying. If there’s so little time because there’s so much to do, then there will be so much time if there’s so little to do.

This touches on the idea of multi-tasking. Usually that means you’re doing many things at the same time, which is inaccurate. What I mean by multi-tasking is simply having too many to-do’s on a regular basis–literally multiple tasks.

We work in a linear fashion, going from one thing to the next in a chain, just like the cause and effect chain of time. The more tasks you have, the less time you have for each task; it’s simple math.

We are talking about quality over quantity. When you have less time to dedicate to a given task, either it cannot be completed or it will be a mediocre thing, one that is not really worth your time! If that’s true, then why bother with it in the first place? Drop it from your schedule. Clear time for more important things. The fewer to-do’s you have, the more time, and thus quality, you will get for each one.

Time To Unwind

These thoughts on time are just some simple ideas. It helps me to take a minute to step back and survey the big picture. Like you, it’s easy for me to get so caught up, buried in my tasks, that I lose track of time and feel I have so little of it. But we all have the same amount of time: 24 hours a day. We all just need to use it more wisely.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! What are some ways you have found to manage your time better? Leave a comment or message me on Twitter!