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The Smartphone Trap

You don't have to run to the gasoline pump every few days to be a traveler. Somebody whose brain has been independent of television for most of his life visits a strange and exotic land every time he watches a TV commercial. I only watch football on TV, so I'm shocked and amazed by what I see: every other commercial during football games is for a smartphone. Why?

Perhaps the advantage of a smartphone is that it allows the average American, who spends half his day stuck in traffic in his pickup truck, to hold the phone in one hand, with his $4 cup of Joe in the other hand, while steering with his left leg, while his eyes look over at the CD player with 64 tiny buttons on it. I don't see what body parts are left to operate the buttons on the remote control of the overhead DVD player, let alone the GPS.

It seems obvious that a netbook provides a cheaper and more complete internet experience than a smartphone. Why would a smart consumer want to download, install, and pay for "apps," when you don't even need apps on a netbook?

But it's easy to see why smartphones and their vaunted apps are good for wireless telecom companies, Apple computer, and media companies. There's an excellent article on this subject by Reggie Middleton on Zero Hedge. The more apps you've paid for, and sunk your personal identity into, the easier it is for the gadgetmaker or media provider to lock you in.

There is no great mystery why Old Media has always had such low quality content: it could get away with it. Their business wasn't really about content; it was about controlling an expensive distribution channel that kept out new competition. 

Smartphones are better for wireless telecom companies than netbooks: smartphones can handle enough video, music, and razzle dazzle that the consumer will be sucked into more expensive (monthly) plans, compared to plain vanilla voice plans on a commodity cellphone; but smartphones have smaller screens than laptops and other limitations, which prevents the wireless data networks from running out of bandwidth too soon, compared to the same number of customers using netbooks or laptops.

Let us hope that the problems of gadget-makers and media companies leads to a creative response, such as better media content and true investigative journalism. I agree with the people in the blogosphere that Old Media has become a lapdog of the government.

Apps also meet an emotional need of some customers: they want to feel special. Psychologically apps are like spending an extra $1200 on an otherwise plain vanilla car, by sticking on a red decal stripe, making the tail lights look a little spiffier, and adding a few more buttons to the music player inside.


Anonymous said…
I think yours is the perspective of one whose nose is pressed to the shop window, looking at goodies just beyond his reach...

I would love to have a netbook, but unfortunately I can't get internet access driving down I-75. I can access Kayak and Gas Buddy (free apps by the way) on my SmartPhone in search of the cheapest gas and a cheap if not the cheapest rented cot for the night (the cot I scrutinize via TripAdvisor)

Then when tucked into my nights lodging, I tether my laptop to my Smartphone and leave comments strewn throughout the internet, using my full keyboard. No thumbs here. perhaps bad punctuation, but I think no misspelled or truncated words.

Tom in Orlando
Tom, I giggled at your imagery in the first line.

The tethering capability between a laptop and the smartphone DOES seem like a legitimate selling point.

I'm not so sure about those gasoline, food, and campground or motel apps. Is the information unbiased and up-to-date? (It wasn't in the old days, with the dead tree guide books.)

Laugh if you will, but I consider informational guides, be they GPS or databases, to be an unmanly form of travel. I got by just fine without them. At times I even used being lost to my advantage: I came to an intersection, suspected I made a wrong turn, and decided to keep going, just to see how it turned out.
Anonymous said…
GasBuddy relies on users to post current prices. You can see how old the price is and make a judgment accordingly. The mobile site isn't as good as the full site so when on the road I try to plot my gas stops using the tethered pooter before getting on the road. Kayak works with realtime data and is my goto place for lodging and airfare.

Tom in Orlando