One of the cliché items among some in the minimalist circles is the iPhone. For some, this magical device might serve a much needed purpose, but for others it’s just one of the consumerist tendencies we have been unable to resist.
In our last post I talked about land line home phones versus cell phones. We had much response in the comments section from all sides of this topic. Some, like me, had given up the land line. Most seemed generally happy with this decision. Some had both home phones and cell phones. Some in this group were happy to have both as they both served different needs. Others in this group desired to drop the home phone, but had some limitations preventing them from doing so. And we had one person that only had a home phone and didn’t have a cell phone. I can barely imagine life before cell phones, but I imagine it’s filled with much less distraction.
Today I want to take a look at segments of the cell phone world. On one side we’ll have the plain old simple cell phone, and on the other we’ll have the magical smart phone.
Smart phones have only become mainstream in the past couple of years. Really, in my opinion, it started with the first iPhone. This was the first web enabled phone that was truly easy to use. Sure we had Blackberries and Windows phones, but those were more for corporate use, weren’t very easy to setup or use, and tended to lockup a lot requiring frequent reboots (at least the ones I had did.) Fast forward to today and we have a multitude of Android powered smart phones, and iPhone just became available on a second carrier in the U.S.
The Urge to Upgrade
It’s no question; the smart phone is wildly popular. I’ve had the urge to upgrade in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. It seems like it would be really nice to have a fancy phone that does all kinds of cool things. In fact, I’ve been waiting for the iPhone to come to Verizon for a long, long time. Now it’s finally here, which means I finally had to take a good hard look at my decision to purchase one.
Actually, I almost didn’t take that good hard look. I almost just went for it without giving it any good analytical thought. You see, my beloved flip phone broke a few weeks ago. The top portion separated completely from the bottom portion. I was lucky enough to get a loaner phone from a friend, but it’s just not the same as my good old Motorola flip phone. So combine the broken phone with a desire for something better, and I almost bought a new iPhone.
The Good Hard Look
Then I read The End of an Era, a post by Sergio on his blog Minimalisto. In this post he talked about being addicted to his iPhone, and about finally breaking the addiction.
That got me thinking. Do I really need an iPhone? What benefits will I get out of it? What are those benefits worth?
I decided I had to take the emotional aspect out, and look at the facts.
The Benefits of a Smart Phone (and some contrarian comments)
Phone Calls – Even with all the fancy stuff, it still makes phone calls so that’s a definite plus. Contrarian: any phone does this.
Camera – The new smart phones have relatively nice built in cameras, now in the 7 to 10 megapixel range. Plus they have some nice features as part of the camera, with color options, landscape modes, and more. In some cases, this could replace a single purpose cameras, especially for snapshots. In almost all cases a smart phone camera is better than a cell phone camera. Contrarian: They still don’t match a single purpose digital camera in quality and features. They lack a few key features like an optical zoom, a good flash, low light capabilities, and action shot capability.
Contacts – Contacts are much easier to manage in a smart phone. They seem to have more fields, allow for more customization, are easier to input with the on phone keyboard and through syncing with a computer. In practically every sense, the contact list is easier to manage and use on a smart phone.
Email – The ability to access email on a phone was one of the main impetuses for the creation of such a device. It’s really nice to be able to access email from anywhere and in some cases it’s become a business necessity. Contrarian: Mobile email is rarely a necessity when not required by your employer. It can be more of a distraction from other activities. When I had a smart phone I often found myself checking my email every time a new message came in. I also found myself wanting to check and reply to messages when I should have been focusing on family activities or other things of importance in my life.
Texts (with an alpha keyboard) – Text messages are much easier to read on the bigger screen and much easier to send with a full alphabetic keyboard. All around I’d say texting is much easier on a smart phone. Contrarian: The ease of use likely leads to more use of the texting feature. Distracted texting is becoming a problem, especially while driving. 30 stats have now banned texting while driving.
Internet – The Internet has become embedded in our culture. You’re reading this blog post, so you already know how much information is gathered by means of the Internet. Having it on a mobile device means that you have access to this resource from anywhere and at any time. Contrarian: Is it really necessary to have Internet access all the time? It’s more of a luxury than a necessity.
Games – It’s nice to have a little distraction once in a while, like while waiting at the doctor’s office. It’s also nice to keep the kids occupied while waiting for dinner to arrive at your favorite restaurant. Contrarian: Sometimes this distraction is used at inappropriate times, like during that business meeting you should have been paying attention to. Also, wouldn’t it be nice to teach your kids to behave themselves, see the world, and use their imaginations instead of bribing and distracting them with more electronica?
GPS – In my opinion, GPS is one of the greatest technologies. Being able to find your way is a problem that dates back to the earliest human explorers, and now we hold in our hands the ability to map our routes and know precisely where we are at any given time. This is one of the features I would like to have. My wife has a standalone GPS, but it stays in her car, and whenever I need it, I’m usually already out somewhere. Contrarian: Many still aren’t quite as good as a standalone GPS in terms of mapping routes, and spoken turn by turn directions.
Apps – The ability to download applications custom applications is one of the major leaps in smart phones. It seems like there are apps for almost anything these days, and many can be very useful. A couple I’d like to have are the ones that scan the barcodes and compare prices and an ebook reader. Contrarian: Like some of the other features, none of this is really necessary; apps are more of a luxury.
The Downsides of a Smart Phone
As long as you’re not that annoying contrarian guy, these smart phones are the best things since sliced bread. At least many people seem to think so. What’s the down side though?
Cost – Smart Phones are expensive. They have a high up front cost and a high monthly cost. Here are the costs we were looking at to consider upgrade to an iPhone. (Keep in mind any numbers below are for two people, because I refuse to upgrade my phone and leave my wife with some dinosaur. It’s both of us or none at all.)
2 iPhones = $400
Data plans for 2 iPhones = $60 a month = $720 a year
That data plan is the killer, and in most cases you can’t even use that data plan to connect your laptop or home computer, there’s another additional fee for that.
The Distraction Factor – The devices have a strange ability to suck us in and are very hard to put down. I can’t go through a day without seeing someone staring into one when they should be doing something else. Those somethings elses are things like paying attention while walking, listening during a meeting, while dining with friends, and while driving. Most of the examples in these links are about texting, but I think it tends to roll into the smart phone realm. I’ve also personally witnessed many times people using smart phones for games and Internet browsing during meetings and while dining.
Does a Smart Phone Provide Real Value?
When it comes down to it, I have to decide whether a smart phone adds any real value to my life. When I look at the facts, and take the emotion out of it, it doesn’t seem like a very good use of my money. So, I determined that financially it wasn’t a good move. I’m sure there are cases where an argument could be made, but in my case it doesn’t provide $720 per year worth of value.
In addition, the distraction factor weighs heavily for me. I don’t want to be a phone zombie. I don’t want to constantly stare at my phone while the world passes me by. And, the thing is, I know I would. Even though I’d try not to, I know I wouldn’t be able to resist.
With all the analysis, and after talking it over with my wife, we are going to stick with our dumb phones. We’re sure to get mocked by the consumerists in our lives, but we’ll have the confidence in knowing that we thought it out and made a conscious decision.