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Mobile’s a Serial Killer

Innovation Times

Posted by JR Reagan on June 11, 2013

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Smartphones are like today’s digital Swiss Army Knives.

David Johnson, General Manager of Devices for O2, a leading provider of mobile and broadband in the U.K. In a June 2012 press release, O2 announced findings from “All About You,” a report about how its customers were using their devices.

The report provides hard numbers to support what many of us know already: as mobile devices become more feature-rich, they’re killing off (or making us rethink) gadgets that we’ve relied upon for years.

Phone home

Designed to free us from the tethers of wired phones, mobile’s certainly made a dent in our reliance on earlier types of phones. In 2001, 97% of U.S. households had a landline (Pew Research); today, a full 25% of homes are cell-phone only zones.

And if your mobile battery dies, good luck finding a pay phone. Of the millions of phone booths that once populated the American landscape and culture, some 700,000 remain. Some cities have turned those old landmarks into wi-fi hotspots.

Watch the time

The most basic feature of mobile phones (other than to let us roam as we phone)—the prominent display of time—might have signaled an end to wristwatches. Ask someone for the time and they’ll likely pull their mobile out of their pocket to consult it.

The market for wristwatches took a beating in 2008 and 2009, falling a precipitous 35% (2008), followed by a more modest drop of 13% (2009). But despite the licking the demand for watches now keeps on clicking. Sales reports from both moderate and luxury-priced brands are up from 15% to more than 40%. Status and style play into this trend, as does convenience…ever seen a runner reach for a mobile device to check his time?

Keep an eye on the new generation of wrist devices that connect data stored in your mobile with the convenience and visibility of your wrist. Big tech players and start-ups alike see your wrist as the next killer app.

Alarm clocks aren’t faring as well as watches. In the O2 report, 54% of respondents say they’ve replaced their bedside morning nemesis, instead using the alarm function on their mobile device to awaken them each day. Travel alarm clocks (an earlier mobile device once vital to frequent fliers) have been rendered pointless by more recent mobile technology.

Point-and shoot cameras in the crosshairs

A whopping 74% of O2’s customers use their mobiles to take pictures. Though even flip phones offer basic camera and video functions, newer smartphones and mobile devices have improved camera quality to such a degree that everyone except professionals captures memories with their mobile. One recent mobile phone boasts a 41-megapixel camera!

Face the music

Since nearly every mobile device can now act as a personal jukebox and stream Internet radio, say goodbye to the boombox…and the CD player, the radio, even the MP3 player that you bought just five years ago. These days they serve a limited purpose: keep a battery-operated radio on hand in case of emergencies and that lightweight MP3 for when you’re in training for a marathon.

Goodbye, GPS?

Going, too, is our reliance on dedicated GPS devices (though some smartphone users might find them handy till a bug fix is in place). Our mobiles direct us on cross-country trips, guide us through city traffic and give us step-by-step walking directions once we exit our cars. Later they help us remember where we parked.

You might want to hang on to the collection of paper maps in your glove compartment. The California State Automobile Association stopped printing paper maps of highways in 2008, finding it to be an unnecessary expense.

Which brings me to…

The death of the love letter and books gasping for air

Paper-based products—except the ones you clean up spills with—are quickly being supplanted by their mobile, electronic counterparts.

Do households still proudly display shelves filled with the Encyclopedia Britannica? Do you still head outside to pick up a home-delivered morning paper to read while you eat breakfast? Do you reach for a big yellow book when you need a phone number?

I don’t know but I think not. Many booksellers, from giant retailers to your favorite local place to browse are now bankrupt and gone. Travelers pull their ebook readers out of their carry-ons as soon as they board planes. Newspapers and magazines are feeling the pinch in advertising revenues.

When’s the last time you wrote a love letter? Or wrote to anyone, for that matter?

Today, kids with crushes text their affection, in shorthand. It’s a far cry from the letters that sustained our greatest generation, separated by oceans and war, joined only by a pen and paper.

No country for nostalgia

Not to knock nostalgia…it will always have a place in our hearts, where it belongs. But time stops for no one and innovation breeds obsolescence. As for those old devices, they’ll keep getting replaced by newer, more useful ones. And the lucky ones will end up here, instead of in a junkyard.


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