Towards a more discerning buyer

Written by Abhishek Puri | Updated: Jan 3 2013, 14:14pm hrs
The true value of any product and its cost structure is wrapped in layers behind different overheads, input costs and multiple taxes added from manufacturing to retail

Electronics industry thrives on regular product replacement cycles to keep accountants and shareholders happy. To achieve this, they build economies of scale backed by marketing buzz and hype. The target audience is fragmented, with short attention spans, making it difficult to sustain a lasting impact. Viral marketing creates a felt demand for a product by altering cognitive states. One attributed to Steve Jobs was called as reality distortion field.

Rapid strides in psychometric tests and understanding of neuro physiological phenomenon with complex mathematical metrics have helped to measure advertising impact on a user. Apart from conventional media, interwebs with dedicated tech reviewers have spawned SEO spam. Analysts with dubious and questionable merit quantify millions of shipped products (but not actual sold numbers); to create a positive spin; unfortunately their underlying financial disclosures are often not stated.

Apple occupies top of mind recall and remains aspirational for a cross section of populace with access to resources. It scripted a rags to riches story and path breaking product hype was created either by selective leaks or engineered shortages. However unknown to many, it has been under cloud for shifting manufacturing jobs and tax evasion, labour issues at Foxconn and ripping away various innovations to pass them as its own. Jobs marketed himself as a detail obsessed maniac which rubbed off on the sales as buyers justified forking out premium for his antics.

Similarly, Samsung has been selling phones under Galaxy series with refreshed models over regular intervals. They have stock Android with proprietary Touch Wiz interface which this reviewer finds ugly and repulsive. Unknown to many, Samsung supplies critical parts to its closest rival, iPhone despite fighting pitched patent battles in courts.

The true value of any product and cost structure is wrapped in layers behind different overheads, input costs and multiple taxes added from manufacturing to retail. The final pricing is determined, in part, by end customer who pays for perceived value of brand attributed majorly to clever marketing aimed at recall value. It is incredibly cheap to yank out new products based on blue prints ever since China became the manufacturing hub, partly due to cheap labour and ineffectual legislation. Aakash, the cheapest tablet, has benefited from Chinese manufacturing with generous doses of Indian taxpayers money to subsidise it. It got its buzz from mainstream media fawning about Indian inspired design for lack of better alternative. Its a matter of semantics but this constrained space limit cannot argue the case against Aakash purported for helping underprivileged children to be more productive in studies.

While one may own any brand of smartphone, numerous surveys show that it is mainly used for texting or making calls. The initial sale is based on associated applications but so far has not turned this reviewer into a creative genius or increased his IQ. Often the reviews fail to focus on after sales services (a major issue for Indian customers since most companies treat their customers rather shabbily) and lack of contact details. This reviewer had a bad experience with earliest Samsung Galaxy Android phone and despite persistent efforts was greeted by a Web form for contact on Samsung India website. Repeated requests for software upgrade to iron on bugs in GPS lag and battery life went unanswered both from Web based interface and on Twitter support. After this experience, this reviewer has never ventured to buy any Samsung smartphone.

This reviewer can easily testify that Retina screens featuring millions of pixels cannot be discerned by human eye. Sales are fueled by carrier subsidies in the West where they recoup their investments spread over three years. This reviewer initially viewed Apple products with slight awe; but after having converted to open source, became aware of its evils of digital rights management and restrictive ecosystems. Indirectly, most of users are rather subsiding their costs of owning executive jets and yachts!

Therefore, a more discerning buyer is needed. Marketing claims are best taken with a handful of salt because a toothless Advertising Standards Council promulgates only self regulation in absence of legislative oversight. Unfortunately, the status quo is likely to persist as long as we equate beauty with brains or are made to believe that fairness creams would make us achievers!

The writer is a practicing doctor with keen interest in technology