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Your iPhone Costs Too Much

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When I stare at my phone, I feel pangs of regret. For my wallet.

My phone is fine. But I know I paid more than I needed to for my $800 phone. Most of us probably did.

On the road, far more people buy a Toyota Corolla than one of the company’s luxury Lexus cars. Over in smartphone land, the Lexus has been king.

It’s a failure of the market that most of us have more smartphone than we really need.

This is slowly starting to change. My colleague Brian X. Chen has raved about the iPhone SE, Apple’s new, $399 model, which has the body of a three-year-old smartphone and the brains and guts of the latest editions.

“State-of-the-art smartphone technology has finally come down to a modest price,” Brian wrote Wednesday. “It’s about time.”

But what has been unnatural is the pit of despair for the smartphone of the masses. All of the attention has been on the luxury end.

That has meant that what we pay for smartphones on average has stayed stubbornly high in the United States. Yes, we’re getting more for our money, but for most other consumer products, we’re paying less AND getting improved products.

As long as people were splurging on new models, most companies had little incentive to make great and truly affordable phones. At least until recently. Global smartphone sales are on track to fall for the fourth straight year, and the pandemic-related economic freeze in many countries doesn’t help.

The companies have slowly started to take the hint. Apple’s iPhone XR, which now goes for about $600, is far outselling its $1,000-and-up models in the United States. Samsung’s top-of-the-range phones haven’t consistently sold well.

And while smartphones below $600, including an earlier iPhone SE, haven’t been hot sellers, Brian’s enthusiasm shows that great smartphones don’t have to cost $1,500 or even $600. We just need the companies to put as much energy and marketing muscle into the Corolla end of their range as they do in the high end.

That’s not to say I’m dissing those pricey phones. We should be glad that companies stretch their minds and their research labs to invent phones with bleeding edge technology and $2,000 price tags. Fancy parts and gizmos in today’s luxury phones become tomorrow’s widespread, affordable and important technologies.

So you should feel free to buy the Lexus of smartphones if you want to and can afford it. Just know that you don’t have to.

Several years ago, Susan Wakabayashi moved her family into a newly built home in Middleburg, Va. To her surprise, she and some of her neighbors were in a dead zone without fast internet lines.

What happened next was a maddening five-year saga that shows that even people who can afford to get online can’t always do so because of bureaucratic failures.

Wakabayashi tried every trick in the book so she could work from home and get online for one of her children who was home-schooled.

She said she paid $900 a month at times for subpar mobile internet service. Wakabayashi organized the neighbors to try to persuade internet providers to wire their area for fast internet. She said local government officials told her that exclusive contracts for internet and cellphone providers left them with few alternatives.

Wakabayashi said she even briefly considered hiring a lawyer to sue the county under the Geneva Convention treaties, which create obligations between states at war. (Such a lawsuit would have been impossible, of course, but she was desperate.)

Eventually, Wakabayashi gave up trying to work from home and instead drove three hours round trip to the office.

Wakabayashi later sold the house and moved her family further east to a place with fast internet. She said she misses her old home. Kind of. “All those horses, all those kind people — and lousy internet access,” she said.

  • Facebook’s quasi Supreme Court: In a Times Opinion piece, the chairs of Facebook’s new oversight board said they will now be the final word in disputes over posts deemed to violate the company’s rules for harmful or hateful speech. Kara Swisher writes for Opinion that this board’s rulings on individual cases can’t fix Facebook’s structural flaws that stress “engagement over context, speed over reflection and viral growth above all.”

  • The strain of fast forwarding to the online grocery future: Instacart, which sends shoppers into supermarkets to deliver groceries, is seeing order volumes it hadn’t expected until 2025, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. The pandemic surge has been a strain for staffers logging 18-hour workdays, and for some of Instacart’s contract shoppers who say their compensation and protective gear is inadequate for the health risks they’re taking.

  • “Quiz Daddy” is back! Scott Rogowsky, who for a hot minute was famous as the host of the HQ Trivia online quiz game, is now streaming a comedy talk show from his apartment.

A weatherman for the BBC does double duty drumming out the news broadcast’s theme music.

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