The never-ending, consistently neurotic, and always highly-contested debate between Android and Apple mobile consumer products has earned its online meme status. Which is better? Which is better, really? Few arguments outside politics, religion, and pizza toppings earn such immediate ire or support.
But there’s a fascinating psychological element here that is worth exploring. Or, in the case of Android vs. Apple, debating. It is fundamental and, if we are being fair, objective, to say that both Android, made by Google of course, and Apple have crafted viable, inventive, and groundbreaking products. Despite all the many players in this debate (including Google-only enthusiasts, Apple-for-life loyalists, unplugging advocates, and obtuse contrarians) the reality is that both phones are highly functional and incredibly adaptable. The sheer scale of smartphone technology is, if we zoom out a bit, astounding. We are not the first to observe that Blade Runner originally predicted smartphones, though flying cars seem to elude us.
So why the fervor? Why the loyal do-or-die fandom surrounding what are, essentially, two rather similar products vying in the same space? (And I recognize that even saying “rather similar” is in itself controversial.) One may say, “What about the interface?” Another could continue, “There’s nothing similar between Apple’s horrendous and insultingly dense iOS interface and Android’s ethereal and ideal format.” My point is, of course, made.
Brand Loyalty and Star Wars
Allow me, for a moment, to indulge in some fandom dissection. Is it fair to say that Star Wars as a property is inconsistent? I would hope even the biggest fans would admit that not everything works; perhaps that’s part of its appeal. But, we consistently want it to work, and that includes every movie, book, video game, television show, action figure, multimedia app, and Darth Vader kitchen appliance.
Yet, Star Wars has retained a base population of diehard fans that either dismiss flaws or, adversely, blow them out of proportion to an absurd degree.
I suspect there’s a similar dichotomy at play in the smartphone space. One has selected a side, a fan or not, and their loyalty cannot be tested. Fundamentally, they have an intense and emotional brand loyalty to a product. Disregarding objectivity, this loyalty has somehow made it that Star Wars is to be wholly embraced in all its forms or systematically belittled in all its forms (except for the original). Anything outside these extremes is just incorrect.
It’s also boring. On the internet, inherently medium opinions are drowned out by the loud minorities on the fringes. So, while many people have brand loyalty, I suspect it’s not as hardened as it may seem. In the case of Star Wars, you hear the loud supporters and the angry digressors, with little room for the mild-mannered fans who think some of it works and some of it doesn’t.
This is absolutely feeding the debate between Apple and Android. If my opinion is somewhere in the middle, how motivated am I to run a comprehensive, languid, and exhaustive breakdown of one’s flaws and another’s victories? And do I want to necessarily share the middleground opinion for all the Twittersphere to hear?
Feeding My Narrative
There’s another problem, and it’s actually far bigger than the debate between things we hold in our pockets. In the splintered era of the post-internet, audiences and “channels” are micro-segmented. In other words, you can be fed exactly what you want to hear. You can fuel your own bias.
This is nothing new, of course. But it’s worth highlighting again and again because it is making everyone collectively less informed. If I disagree with the counter argument, I can just not view the content, not follow those creators, and que off anything remotely associated with it. It’s more impactful when it comes to areas of real world consequence. But it plays a factor in any major debate, including one where we discuss who has the coolest smartphone features.
The Powers That Be Know What You Own
It’s also worth highlighting that Google and Apple are two of the most powerful companies in the world. These entities, not to mention advertisers, know exactly what you are holding in your hand. Marketing and advertising are fueled with that in mind. You are recommended content that is most fruitful and effective on your device of choice. It is all a part of the narrative being fed to you.
I won’t begin to argue the features of one or the other. That was never the point. If we scale it back, we know brand loyalty, narrative feedback loops, and good old-fashioned self-assurement all help feed a debate that is hardly a debate at all. Both Android and Apple are bad. Well, no, they are good. Smartphones help the world. Or are slowly destroying it. Probably both. Either way, the debate is endless, and we are all the worse off for it.