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 is one in which we get used to making do with average performance?
Apart from those choosing not to buy a smartphone, 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:
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