Success and Criticism of iPhones and Movies

This article is ultimately about the iPhone 5, the people who initially found it "disappointing" or "boring," and the people who lashed out at those iPhone critics. In the end, I also offer my own assessment of the new iPhone.

But before I get to all of that…I need to talk about the movies.

Casablanca and iPhone


The top ten (10) highest grossing movies of last year (2011) were:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Kung Fu Panda 2
Fast Five
The Hangover Part II
The Smurfs
Cars 2

Harry Potter topped the list, pulling in an impressive $1,328,111,219 (that's more than 1.3 billion dollars!). Cars 2 came in tenth with a worldwide revenue of $559,852,396. To me, the first thing that stands out about this list is that all but one of the films is a sequel (the lone exception is The Smurfs, which is almost a sequel, as it is based on a TV series).

Although all sequels derive from movies that were the first of a lineage, the clear message is that, if you want to make a huge profit in Hollywood, don't be original. It also pays to aim for a young audience. In addition to the kid-targeted Smurfs, Transformers is based on a line of toys; Pirates is based on a ride at Disney World; Harry Potter and Twilight are both based on books for young adults; Cars 2 and Panda are cartoons.

Nine (9) films were nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award last year.

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

What's the first thing you notice when comparing these two lists? You guessed it. There is zero overlap between them. The second thing is that there are no sequels among the nominees. The financial gap is even worse than you might think. The Artist, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, had a worldwide gross of $133,432,856. That's less than 24% of what Cars 2 raked in.

I know that Oscar nominations have at times been criticized for favoring big studio big-grossing films over higher quality small-profit low-budget independents. That didn't seem to be an issue last year.

Okay. So the biggest moneymakers were not the best pictures of the year. But maybe they were at least good pictures. For a few of the top films, that would be true. Harry Potter, for example, had an impressive Rotten Tomatoes rating of over 90% from both critics and audiences. Mission Impossible also rated well. But the overall trend for the top films is definitely in the negative direction, especially among critics. Transformers weighed in at 35%, Pirates at 34%. Twilight drops down to 25% and The Smurfs gets only 23%.

In other words, the top money-making films not only failed to get any best picture Oscar nominations, many of them were considered to be among the worst films of the year. One reviewer went so far as to call The Smurfs "the worst movie ever." Undeterred, Hollywood is already planning two Smurf sequels.

Much ink has been spilled on the "meaning of all of this." In brief, the consensus is that the box office is dominated by teenagers and twenty-somethings, especially males. While their movie-going choices do not necessarily reflect a film's overall quality, movies are made for this audience because that's where the money is. In Hollywood, money trumps quality every time.

People understand this. We accept the fact that The Artist might be the best movie of the year despite its relatively small box office receipts. Conversely, we are well aware that The Smurfs can be a terrible movie despite making tons of money. Maybe tweens that loved The Smurfs don't get this. But the rest of us do. We understand that popularity is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

When you read a scathing review of a movie, you might disagree with the critic. You might have solid reasons to disagree. If so, by all means say so. However, I assume you wouldn't base a rebuttal solely on box office receipts. That is, you would not offer a comeback like: "To the critic who found Transformers boring and insufferable, you're a moron. While you were complaining that the film was a time-wasting mess, it made over a billion dollars. So just shut up."

Yet that is exactly the sort of immature comment I too often find when reading responses to those who criticize the iPhone.

iPhone 5

Several articles posted after last week's announcement of the iPhone 5 described the iPhone as "disappointing" or "boring" or "lacking in innovation." I believe the same logic that applies to movies should apply to iPhones.

Just as a movie can get bad reviews but go on to box office success, the iPhone 5 can be reviewed as disappointing and yet be a spectacular sales winner. These are not mutually exclusive qualities. One is not a retort for the other.

Sales numbers can define success for Apple stockholders and accountants. But that is not the criteria used by most reviewers. They (at least the good ones) are typically expressing their assessment of the attributes of the iPhone. Whatever is driving up sales can be, at least in part, something beyond the noteworthy new features of the device. Maybe many consumers prefer to stick with Apple, almost no matter what the specs of the product are.

If you're going to come back at those who claim "disappointment," you should have more in your arsenal than faulty logic. That's why I get irritated by snarky comments like (mashing together several comments I've seen): "So, people pre-ordered two million iPhones in the first 24 hours. I guess that makes fools out of those so-called pundits who called the iPhone 5 a 'disappointment.'"

To be clear, my point is not that iPhone critics should be immune to rebuttal. Just as you can disagree with a movie reviewer, there can be legitimate differences of opinion about the iPhone. I'd go even further:

• If a critic predicts sales failure, then it is fair game to criticize him based on the iPhone's eventual sales success.

• If a critic bases his negative assessment on untrue assertions, it's fine to call him on that.

• If it looks like the whole point of an article is to act as "link bait" rather than to make any sound points, feel free to pile dirt on the author.

• I am also skeptical of early criticism by people who have never held or used the new device. To me, that's like reviewing a movie based only on what you've read about it. It's fine to be critical of that.

Just don't use the sales success of iPhones as a hammer to bonk the head of anyone who offers any sort of critique.

My take on the iPhone 5

If you're thinking that I wrote this article to defend my own criticisms of the iPhone 5, think again. I wrote this out of a sense of fairness, defending the "rights" of those with whom I disagree.

My own brief reaction to the iPhone 5 is: "It's marvelous."

I was impressed with the quality of the device from the moment I took it out of the box. The sleek metal design combined with its lighter weight and thinner body make a spectacular first impression. It feels even more comfortable in my hand than the iPhone 4S.

I had been concerned that I would not welcome a larger display, that it would make the device seem too bulky. Nope. While it is a bit more difficult to navigate the screen with one hand (especially reaching from top to bottom with my thumb), it hardly matters. I almost always use two hands when working with the iPhone. And the phone still fits easily in my pocket. The extra screen real estate is a bonus for everything from the added icon row on the home screen to fitting in more of a webpage to watching "full screen" video. Apple's Retina display remains the best I have seen on any smartphone.

As for speed, all I can say is "wow." As expected, LTE flies compared to 3G. But even with Wi-Fi or with features that don't depend on an Internet connection (such as launching apps), the iPhone 5 is significantly snappier. The A6 processor and other hardware upgrades really do make a huge difference.

If the iPhone can be considered "boring" in any way, it's only in the positive sense. When you have a product as successful and well-designed as the iPhone 4S, you don't want to mess with it too much. As they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." You improve it in increments. Someday, as technology continues to move forward, I'm sure there will dramatic enhancements to the iPhone. Today is not that day. And that's just fine with me.

The iPhone 5 lives up to Apple's PR as "the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone." My prediction? If you get one, you won't be disappointed.