Overhyped and Underwhelming

Do me a favor and think back to the year 2001.

The Time Magazine “Person of the Year” was Rudy Giuliani. Lifehouse, Train, Matchbox Twenty, and Lenny Kravitz took four of the first 10 spots on the Billboard Top 100 List (one of the last times that so many rock-ish groups would ever be in the top 10, since the following year was dominated by Nelly, Ashanti, Usher, and Linkin Park). Wikipedia went online for the first time, and Napster was taken offline. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone shattered box office records (as did The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Shrek, Monsters, Inc., and Ocean’s Eleven), and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft reached the red planet to study whether or not life ever existed there. I was in 4th grade.

Here’s another tidbit: Apple decided to shake things up a bit within their product lines by developing a media player, called the iPod. It had 5 GB of storage, 20-minute skip protection, FireWire, a 10-hour battery, a backlit LCD display, and it was boasted to be as small as a deck of cards. It was $399.

MacRumors, an Apple-centric website created in 2000 by a fourth-year med student in Richmond, Virginia (woohoo!) has an archived collection of forum topics and threads that date back to the site’s inception, allowing one to take a look at what people’s initial reactions were to “Apple’s New Thing” (no joke, that’s the title of the thread).

“Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?!”

“hey – heres an idea Apple – rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys, why dont you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up? or are you really aiming to become a glorified consumer gimmicks firm?”

“I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!”

“All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.”

This thread, now referred to as “Thread 500” because it was the 500th thread on the site, has since become infamous.

Let’s now take a look at the Apple iPad, which was released in January 2010. Again, we will see some of the initial reactions to the device.

“This is a giant iPhone, there’s no other way to put it. You can love it, you can hate it but in the end it is a giant iPhone. Not revolutionary at all.” 

“I was looking forward to this, but am so disappointed – no camera, and no thrills you do not get from an iPhone. This will NOT make it!”

“I can picture buying this and using it exclusively in the bathroom while I go number two.”

While many of the initial commenters on both of these products were disappointed due to the overwhelming hype that surrounds every Apple event, it’s funny to think about the sense of disillusionment that immediately follows the reveal of any new technological product or upgrade. This, coupled with the fact that consumers often feel the need to pick a “side” in terms of brand loyalty, has created an extremely toxic online environment. In the first thread, fans of Apple were disappointed by the direction their preferred computer company was going. In the second, many were skeptical of the device’s practicality and the implementation of a “mobile” OS on such a large screen, but many were looking forward to later iterations that improved on the already solid foundation Apple had built.

This brings us to the Apple Watch, Apple’s newest product since the creation of the iPad.

“But we’re yet to see a watch with true wow-factor…”, what about the Moto 360, you forget about that? Who would ever want to have this crap when you can get a Moto 360?”

“Moto360 still more appealing! Apple is coming in too late in the game! I used to be a hardcore Apple guy, not so much now. Slowly, but surely I have migrated to Android and being quite frankly, I love it!!! Android is so much diverse and the quality available is amazing. The Iwatch is a poor attempt at the smart-watch. It just looks like early android models, for it to win back some fans it needs to be able to compete with the Moto360 and the LG G Watch R.”

“Apple haters, you know, the ones who buy inferior products, just keep churning the APPLE media machine with millions of posts.”

“wow apple is really going down fast the iphone is playing catch up. this watch thing will sell well but not at all attractive. I am sure the apple faithful will love it (including cnet) . once again over hyped overpriced apple products this is not impressive anymore”

There aren’t many other products or categories out there that encourage this type of behavior. You don’t often see Ford and Chevrolet supporters going at it in the comment sections of websites, nor do you see Dyson and Hoover users duking it out to the death. McDonalds vs. Burger King, North Face vs. Patagonia, Bounty vs. Brawny towels…none can compare to the types of arguments that revolve around Xbox vs. Playstation, Apple vs. Android/Windows, and Mac vs. PC.

In a piece for The Verge titled “Fanboys,” Lessley Anderson studies what makes up this fascinating, and often annoying, phenomenon. She writes that the average persona of a fanboy consumer consists of being virtually force-fed tech news by the media machine, and at the end of the day the only thing the consumer can do with this information is share it with others. There aren’t many situations when you’d need (or care enough) to know how many megapixels are in the HTC One’s camera, or the size of the PS4’s hard drive, or the brightness of the Galaxy S4’s flash, so the “fanboy” naturally uses this information to compare his or her own product to the rest of the tech landscape. Anderson writes that “commenting becomes a hobby in and of itself, with competition for social status and special props for being prolific, funny, or especially persuasive.”

The end result of all of this, she writes, is that for a small-time developer, rallying behind a company like Google is all about politics. She writes, “…As we rely more and more on technology, tech companies become the new authorities. It may seem trivial to debate megapixels versus debating, say, Obamacare. Despite the fact that he’s actually providing free advertising for a corporation whose end game is to make money off of him, though, [the fanboy] operates as if he’s a foot soldier helping to campaign for a brighter tomorrow. And in his mind, he is.”

This becomes clear once you start breaking down the types of comments within the average comment section concerning tech news. For the purposes of this piece, I went to Cnet.com and clicked on the most recent phone-related review titled “High five: Samsung’s best phone gets better.”

‘Dis gonna be good.

“What an overpriced piece of Plastic. I owned the S4, and I returned it within the 14 day trial period. Terribly glitchy, and not worth the money. Switched to a Windows Phone Nokia 1520 running WP8.1 and it’s much nicer, though it lacks a couple apps I used to use on Android and iPhone.”

“Sorry, I have been in technology industry for more than 20 years. I have been using many phones, tablets, I am not just testing also hardcore using those devices. How it could have rated 1st, really I am not able to understand there is Sony Xperia Z1 or Z2…Sorry but it is not worth 1st, this is my idea, I am bored to see these Korean tweens’ average quality products are in Top3 or Top2 every magazines.”

“Confusing to use? lol…. only if you’re a jaded Applewellian lost in the hackability of their iPhone 5s Guaranteed SPOOFGATE PRONE AUTHENTEC FINGERPRINT TECHNOLOGY! If you can’t figure it out after about a few minutes, you better hand it over to some kid, who could probably have your iPhone 5s Spoofed…. Hacked and Jacked before you even know it! ahahaha…..   It’s quite simple actually even with it’s 4fold security biometric access. AND… what you think Apple is bringing with iPhone 6 that’ll make your iPhone 5s totally Obsolete? Yeah multi-layer authentication from the KING of Biometric Access Samsung for over 14yrs!!! ;-P

I’d love to meet the person who wrote that last comment. It looks like he/she used fists instead of fingers to type it up. The author’s username is iCuttingEdge, and he/she wrote about 50 comments just within this article. Here are a few more gems, all in regards to an IR LED heartrate monitor thingy in Samsung’s new phone:

“If you are in a car accident or earthquake or other natural disaster, you are going to want to have an FDA approved Cardiac Monitor for sure. Right now that’s only available in a Galaxy S 5 at the moment. But what are you going to say when Apple includes one? Oh yeah…. Apple’s better because it’s approved by Apple’s share holders for not costing much!!! lol…..”

“You don’t even get why it’s important to have a genuine IR LED/photocell Pair do you? Just admit you know nothing of how this all works.”

“You’re so deluded it’s pathetic and I’m not going to get into idiotic “What If’s” about this comparison of features with you. Go buy the POS you want, nobody really cares what you your’re saying. They at least should have enough common sense to see the benefits, even if they wouldn’t use them them immediately. We wear Seat Belts in cars 100% of the time just to protect us from that one time (1%) we really need them! …..what do you say about that? Nevermind you’ll have some foolish answer for that too!!!”

I have a question: who cares? Why, iCuttingEdge, do you care what other people buy? If you’d like an FDA approved Cardiac Monitor in your phone, more power to you. But the amount of people who spend significant chunks of their time anonymously defending products in front of other anonymous commenters is baffling. It’s one thing to have a discussion concerning the merits of each phone’s features and whatnot, but this is a bit much.

Things can change, though. Remember the Golden Rule? You know, that thing that started out as “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” in the Code of Hammurabi that later evolved into variations of “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself?” Websites, especially tech websites, have disclaimers above their comment sections that seek to keep conversations civil, and a few, like Engadget, had to shut down their comment sections entirely to let tensions cool down for a bit. “Some of you out there in the world of anonymous grandstanding have gotten the impression that you run the place,” wrote Joshua Topolsky in their 2010 announcement, “but that’s simply not the case.”

Do your part! If you like a particular product, vote in favor of it with your wallet. If a company releases something that irks you, ignore it and be proud of your decision. Save your angst and fury for the arguments that truly need to be taking place, though. If I were to have to choose between arguing about cellphones or arguing about “Fast Lanes” and the recent “Internet Slowdown,” I’d most definitely choose the latter.

Unless the topic is about Comcast. If that’s the case, then pass me a pitchfork.

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