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The Most Poisonous Myth About Smartphones

Best Buy needs us to to believe we have too many good choices when it comes to phones, and that we're too stupid to make them. We don't and we aren't.

Posted on May 7, 2012, at 12:00 p.m. ET

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Best Buy debuted this ad during the Super Bowl and it's been airing ever since.

It's a love letter to the smartphone and a flamboyant parade of ethos. It's also pretty effective, which is a shame, because it promotes one of the most destructive, dumbest ideas in tech: that we have too many choices, and not enough help.

The rules for buying a smartphone have been the same for about four years now. This is basically all you need to know:

1) There are only around five smartphones that anyone should consider buying. There's an iPhone, one to three decent Android phones, and then something else. Lately that's been a Windows Phone; it used to be a BlackBerry or two. The number grows a little bit when you factor in areas that aren't covered by all the major carriers and therefore require compromise. But not really.

2) If you don't know what you want, or don't care, you should probably get an iPhone.

3) Once you've decided on a platform, your phone choice is basically made. The best iPhone is the newest one. The best Android phone is that last Nexus, or a close equivalent. The best Windows Phone is whatever Nokia's nicest model is. The Wirecutter keeps a pointedly short up-to-date list here. So do GDGT and Gizmodo.

4) Don't worry about price. Saving $100 upfront isn't worth two years of regret.

Phone stores promote the idea that there are just TOO MANY options, only one of which is right for you. Best Buy promotes the extreme of that idea: that there are dozens of options, and that you need help to sort through them. But buying a phone is not like buying a mattress. It's not like choosing a pair of glasses. In reality, going to Best Buy with an open mind is one of the only ways to guarantee you make the wrong choice. I mean seriously, look at this. It's horrifying:

What are all those phones for? Why are there so many people? Best Buy is a Rube Goldberg machine of phone-buying.

After you've done a few minutes of online research and played with a couple of your friends' phones there is nothing these people can do but cloud your judgment. There aren't mom phones and dad phones or boys' phones or girls' phones or professional phones or creative phones. There are just phones with iOS and Android and Windows that work better than all the other phones with iOS and Android and Windows. In all ways! They're faster and have better screens and they're easier to use than everything that came before them. They run more apps. They cost the same amount as the old ones, roughly, and will last longer.

Those endless displays of other — and make no mistake, shitty — phones serve only to make you second-guess what you already know. The whole experience is designed to make you think you're stupid or ignorant, like you need help. You aren't and you don't, and certainly not from someone in a blue shirt. It's impossible to quantify just how much frustration, regret and animosity has resulted from last-minute sales-associate-inspired phone purchases made at places like Best Buy, but it's got to be a lot. Sales associates are the reasons actual human beings bought Microsoft Kins. They're the reason people still buying their first BlackBerrys, by choice, in 2012.

Best Buy doesn't care if you buy the right phone or one of the dozens of wrong phones. Best Buy only cares that you think you need to buy it at one of their stores. It's in their interest to promote the idea that buying a smartphone is hard, that choosing a handset is like buying a pair of glasses or a finding the perfect suit, that you need in-person expert help to sort through a multitude of choices, and that you can't do it online, because if this isn't true then Best Buy doesn't need to exist.

Which, well.