The Apple iPhone: yet another conflation of needs and wants

June 29, 2007 | By | 8 Replies More

It’s deemed “news” rather than advertising: It’s right up there with Paris Hilton.

Hundreds of people who lined up to be among the first to get their hands on Apple Inc.’s coveted iPhone are now the braggarts and guinea pigs for the latest must-have, cutting-edge piece of techno-wizardry. 

Gotta have it.  Gotta have it!

As though we haven’t been able to live happy and productive lives until now.    As though people who go out to by an iPhone are going to be happy now because they will own this new gadget.

I’m not anti-gadget.  I use a Blackberry.  I am webmaster of two sites.  I am proficient at using all kinds of PC software, including wordprocessing, finance, video editing and voice recognition. I own and use digital still and video cameras.  My rule, though, is that I don’t want to mess with it unless I’m really going to use it. 

Today, the iPhone story is about “needing” to own it and have it, needing to show it off and brag about it.  But people can do all of things that iPhone offers without possessing an iPhone.  They can easily email, surf the web, make phone calls, maintain my contacts and check maps.   Maybe they don’t do it with such an elegant package, but they can get it done.  They can get it done without fanfare, without standing in line at an Apple Store.  Those people are more connected to other people because they don’t display their gadgets to make conversation. 

Well, I can’t use my existing gadgets and software in a way that people will think I’m cool.  Not anymore.  With the launch of the iPhone something has been taken from me.

The secret is that new gadgets are not really about the gadget. They are about relationships. They are about possessing the gadget so that one can be noticed and admired as one who has the resources sufficient to own that gadget.  The urge to own is usually not about filling a need.  Here’s an example. A year ago, I was wandering about a Costco store passing by the rows of wide-screen TV’s, admiring the resolution, thinking it might be nice to own one.   I had this thought even though my wife and I have a perfectly functioning 27″ Phillips television that I bought in 1989.   I asked my wife what she thought about upgrading to a new hi-definition television.   She asked me a question.   “Have you ever been watching a movie on our current TV when it occurred to you that you weren’t able to appreciate the show because the TV needed to be twice as big?” 

Well, no.  Never.  That single question reminded me that the “need” to own a wide-screen television was not a need at all.  To continue thinking that one “needed” such a gadget reveals, in fact, that the consumer has an impoverished imagination.   We still have that 27″ set and I am still amazed at the quality of the new television sets at Costco.  Yet it hasn’t ever recurred to me that we “needed” one.

There are probably people out there who are always on the go who need ALL of the things that the iPhone offers.  They need one because they don’t have their own computer, phone or camera, for instance.  Maybe the choice of an iPhone makes sense for them.  

There are also people out there who don’t really need any of the things that the iPhone offers, yet they want to be noticed and respected by similar-thinking gadget-honoring others.  They are salivating for the newest gadget now available.  May they discover the peace that comes when one realizes that there is a difference between wants and needs. May they discover the peace of feeling whole even though they don’t own the newest heavily-hyped gadget.


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Category: Consumerism

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    The industry-shaking detail about the iPhone is not so much its "cool" factor, as the fact that AT&T is leaving it unlocked. That is, you can use your iPhone as a VOIP phone from any WIFI access point, without going through AT&T! You can transfer files on to and off of it without going through the cell network.

    I currently have a nice Motorola phone, half the functionality of which is blocked because it is locked by Verizon. I can't move pictures, videos, sounds, or text files between my phone and computer via the Motorola USB cable I own because Verizon forbids it. Only phone book synchronization is allowed. I could do these things if I pay Verizon an extra $20/month, but only via their cell network.

    The iPhone is creating buzz in tech circles because the practice of cell phone companies blocking device capabilities is starting to crack!

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    For anyone interested in replicating iPhone features on a cell phone or smartphone, here's an article that explains how:

  3. Erika Price says:

    Remember the RAZR? A year ago everyone clamboered for that sleek, sexy little phone, making it quite the hot commodity-and it didn't even have any kind of improved functionality. Now anyone can afford to wield a RAZR, and it impresses no one. The iPod's many incarnations have followed a similar pattern, evolving from iPod to iPod mini to shuffle to nano, except that the new iPods at least always improved upon their predecessors techonologically. In a few years, the thing that everyone "has to have" will become old hat- and also much more affordable. How long will it take for every phone to have the iPhone's capabilities? Two or three years? Surely less than five. Apple will at least have a newer, sleeker version that makes this hot toy seem like a dinosaur in a year or so.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Years ago, when cell phone technology became available to the masses and the bag-phone (analog cell phone with battery pack in a leather bag) was the rage, enterprizing housewife came out with the idea of a fake bag phone.

    The idea was to sell something that looked like the real thing, so that you could pretend to have an important conversation while stuck in traffic. All to impress total strangers in nearby vehicles. The fake cellphones sold quite well.

    The iPhone appears to be a major advance in usability for a smart phone, and the main complaint coming from supporters of other smart phones already is the price. As a curiosity, I check on the retail price of a new, unlocked Motorola Q. It was $650.

    Most of the wireless industry sells the phone as a loss-leader, then subsidized the cost of the phone by locking you into a draconian contract that they could not lose money on even if they tried to.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to Niklaus' comment, indeed, the business model for the cell phone is much like the business model for razor blades and Kodak Instamatic cameras: give away the razor, camera, cell phone, etc., then make your money by selling the blades, film, airtime, etc. It will be interesting to see what impact the iPhone has on the cell phone business model. With the proliferation of wireless access points, a phone that can use those connections for free, without incurring air time charges, could make a big dent in the industry. People with basic cell phone needs, especially those who live in cities, could have essentially unlimited cell access without paying anything for air time. Time will tell where the iPhone goes and how the industry responds.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a post by another guy who doesn't get it about iPhones. Click here.

  7. Ben says:

    You deserve a new TV!

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    Details about how to take your iPhone apart. If you dare!

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