iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3?

July 5, 2012 BY danariely

Retro iPhoneMy 2-year cell phone contract was up last month, and even before the date when I could opt for an upgrade, I began to experience the pain of indecision: which was it going to be – a Samsung Galaxy S3 or an iPhone 5? I was one of the only Android (HTC Evo) users in our Center for Advanced Hindsight team, and swayed by the rest of the group’s dedication to Apple, I was looking forward to switching to the new iPhone as soon as my contract was up. But I was not going to be able to befriend the newest iOS 6-adorned Siri until the iPhone’s release in a couple of months. In today’s impatient tech age, that is an eternity. My longing for an Apple clashed with my itching desire to get a new phone.

After watching a hopeless number of face-off videos, reading about the features and specs of Galaxy S3 compared with the endless mock ups of the rumored iPhone 5, and even throwing the question around at dinner parties, I decided to come to my senses, listen to what research has to say, and make an irrationally rational decision. Though surely evidence from decades of research is not limited to the following considerations, I picked a number of conceptual tools from decision-making research that could help shed light on this quandary of iPhone vs. Samsung:

  1. Now vs. Later: I should pit my short-term interest in having a new smartphone now against my long-term interest in having an iPhone later. Temporal discounting suggests that we have the tendency to want things now rather than later, and delaying gratification depends on whether we are convinced that what will happen in the future is going to be better than what we can have now. In other words: howmuch better is this nebulous iPhone of the future when I could have this immediately awesome Galaxy S3?  Given that the specs of Galaxy S3 are available but those of the iPhone 5 are not, it might be smart to bet for what is certain. (Winner: Galaxy S3)
  2. Misremembering the past vs. mispredicting the future: I can go with the certain specs of Galaxy S3, or potentially recall my past experiences with iPhones and decide accordingly. Sadly we are bad at remembering past feelings; rather than correctly weighing the positives and negatives we remember the peak moments and selected experiences. Since I am unable to accurately recall my past emotional states, then maybe I can imagine how much pleasure each of these phones could bring me in the future? Unfortunately, we are also notoriously bad at predicting the duration and intensity of future feelings. (Winner: Galaxy S3)
  3. Want vs. need: Do I want a new phone? Yes. Do I really need a new phone? No, because my old one is still in good shape. With the irresistible discounts of signing up for a new 2-year plan, I am conditioned by the cell phone market to switch to a new phone as soon as possible. This conditioning moves me from casually wanting a new device to absolutely needing it to survive (!). I feel that the longer I wait, the more I am giving up on a perceived opportunity. (Winner: wait until my current phone gives up, and then get an iPhone 5).
  4. Decoy options iPhone 4s vs. HTC Evo: In my indecision, I can introduce a third option that is asymmetrically dominated either by Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5. If I consider iPhone 4S as a potential option, it would (hopefully) be dominated by iPhone 5 but could still be superior to the Galaxy S3 with the ease of its use, compactness and such. If I am leaning more towards the Android options, then I can consider staying with HTC Evo as a potential third choice, and given that Galaxy S3 surpasses my old Android in nearly every domain, I would lean towards upgrading to Samsung. (Winner: Depends on the decoy option)
  5. Reactance to unavailability: The brands also complicate the issue as they control supply and increase demand by playing with the availability of their products as well as the timing of their release. This can create several types of responses:
  • Since iPhone 5 is currently unavailable, I experience a pressure to select iPhone 4S which is a similar alternative. If I perceive this as a limitation on my freedom to choose, I might react by selecting a dissimilar option. (Winner: Galaxy S3)
  • The unavailability of iPhone 5 could also lead me to perceive it as more desirable. (Winner: iPhone 5)
  • Or I can just despise what I can’t have. (Winner of the sour grapes story: Galaxy S3)

So, what should I do? Given the considerations above, there is still no clear winner for me. Yes, I have the plague of newism: I run after the genuine, exciting proposition of the emerging trends and products. Yes, I know there is something good now, but possibly something better around the corner.

At the end of the day, I will toss a coin: not because it will settle the question for me, but because in that brief moment when the coin is in the air, I will suddenly know which side I hope to see when it lands in my palm. And besides, whether I purchase my new phone from Apple or from Samsung, I will stick to my commitment, almost immediately forget about the forsaken option, and justify my choice infallibly in retrospect.

~Lalin Anik~