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Welcome to the future. A future in which your smartphone has replaced every other device that ever existed. And yet nothing is quite as good as it should be. “Yeah, that’ll do” is the new motto. We have replaced multiple things that do one thing well with one thing that does everything badly. The future is here, the future is now.

Smartphones: Digital Swiss Army Knives

We asked you, Have Smartphones Rendered Everything Obsolete? We received a fair amount of comments, and everyone who contributed to the debate had something useful to add to the discussion. Different commenters took the conversation in different ways, but there was one undeniable truth which emerged.

Smartphones are extremely versatile and capable machines. They’re small, portable, and increasingly powerful. And thanks to the burgeoning collection of apps available on all of the various platforms, smartphones can do a lot more than their dumb predecessors. The problem is differentiating between able to do something and being able to do something well.

In the previous article we listed some of the devices the smartphone has rendered obsolete – “point and shoot cameras, MP3 players, alarm clocks, GPS systems, and wristwatches” – and yet it’s pretty clear that in the majority of those cases smartphones do a worse job than their single-use alternatives.

Does this mean a future where smartphones reign supreme How Smartphones Are Ruining Your Life How Smartphones Are Ruining Your Life Your smartphone could be ruining your life, or at least have the capacity to do so in the future. Read More is one in which we get used to making do with average performance?


Apart from those choosing not to buy a smartphone 5 Reasons Not To Buy A Smartphone 5 Reasons Not To Buy A Smartphone You may feel pressured into buying a smartphone, even though you're perfectly happy with your (so-called) dumbphone. Don't be. Read More , we are essentially replacing performance with usability, or quality with quantity. We’re choosing to carry one device capable of doing everything badly over multiple devices capable of doing individual things to a high standard.

However, this may not always be the case. Smartphones are only going to get better from here on out, and at some point in the future they may indeed be able to do everything extremely well. Unfortunately, by that point we will have stopped producing single-use devices and so won’t know how capable they could have become.

TL;DR: Smartphones are creating a future where we are accepting second-best.

Comment Of The Week

We received a lot of great comments, including those from DH, Tom W, and bben. Comment Of The Week goes to Bruce Dale, who wins a T-shirt for this comment Have Smartphones Rendered Everything Obsolete? [We Ask You] Have Smartphones Rendered Everything Obsolete? [We Ask You] Point and shoot cameras, MP3 players, alarm clocks, GPS systems, and wristwatches – all replaced. What's next? Read More :

Looking at the issue from a strictly work-related P.O.V., I use this analogy: If my desktop (or even laptop) computer is my toolbox, then my smartphone is my Swiss Army Knife. It does a lot of things passably, but sometimes you just need a bigger, more robust tool. In addition, I will never EVER give up my DSLR camera. While smartphones may have supplanted point-and-shoots, I find it hard to see a future in which they do everything my big, honkin’, but extremely versatile Canon will do.

We chose this comment because the analogy comparing a smartphone to a Swiss Army Knife is very apt. As we have discussed above, smartphones are capable of doing so much, but there’s a big difference between doing something and doing something well. The only way of keeping single-use devices around for the longterm is to keep on buying them.

We Ask You is a weekly column in which you have your say about a particular subject. We ask you a question each week, with the results compiled and compressed into a follow-up article the following week. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.

Image Credit: Jannis Andrija Schnitzer via Flickr

  1. Warren T
    August 5, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Absolutely hate our Samsung SIII "Smart" Phones. Pretty dumb. Can't easily get rid of all the garbage loaded on the phone. Drops calls if talking more than about 5 minutes. Liked the previous flip phone much better. Only did talk and text. YEA!

  2. Gene B
    August 1, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Disappointment would be my main review comment for the Galaxy S5. After reading great things its
    main advantage over the S2 is battery power. It still sucks as a phone and pocket dials for no apparent reason. Everybody says to lock it first. Doesn’t seem to matter maybe locking it in Fort Knox would help. Smart phones are where cars were in the muscle car age – powerful but unrefined. If it weren’t for To Do list reminders (and it took a while to find one that actually gave a useful notifications) and Evernote I don’t know that the data plan would be worth paying.

  3. Tom E
    July 30, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Granted, my smartphone is not as good at some things. BUT (yes, I like big buts), the real power comes because (a) it is always with me, and (b) it is integrated. A good example is a password database. Instead of having to remember dozens of passwords, I can securely keep them in my phone, and sync that password database with my other devices. And, since my smartphone is a general purpose computer, I have an app that opens my desktop-format database.

  4. bben
    July 30, 2014 at 9:58 am

    My not very smart phone is actually a poor phone when compared to my old moto flip phone. It does handle texting better- as long as you can actually look at the screen while doing it ( the moto could do texting without looking) My Cannon is a better camera, My old TomTomOne is a better GPS. And my 'smart' phone does not even compare with my desktop computer or laptop for internet and actually getting things done. Calling these things smart phones is a misnomer - they are gradually getting smarter, but they are a Swiss army knife with a lot of tools that you can use when the real tool is not readily available - that has a sort of marginally useable phone as one of those tools.

  5. David M
    July 30, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Well, my Galaxy SII sucks as a phone. My old Nokia candy bar phone works better (which I still use when my Galaxy won't work right). The camera obviously isn't a good as my Canon camcorder. The gps is constantly fading in and out, so anytime in traveling, I always bring my Garmin. I get 0.04Mb (slower than dial up) Internet speeds, but I can't blame the phone for that. I can only blame t-mobile.

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