Less Is More

23 09 2010

I have a confession to make.

When Apple announced its first phone back in 2007, I scoffed at the idea. Scoffed loudly. Ridiculed. Dismissed.

I had seen the feeble attempts by Blackberry to produce a smartphone. What could Apple possibly bring to the table? And why, oh why, would I want to trade my individual camera, iPod and cell phone for an all-in-one device? Each of those three was specialized in its applications. I couldn’t fathom trading down megapixels and megabytes just so I could have a phone that did it all.

Of course, I was wrong. Dead wrong. Go ahead and scoff. Ridicule me. Dismiss me. I saw the error of my ways, though, and bought my first iPhone in April of 2008. Today, my iPhone4 now spends the night right beside me on the nightstand, its onboard camera, MP3 player and five dozen apps always at the ready to entertain, navigate, photograph, email and more.

A recent survey indicates that consumers with smartphones are now ditching other devices because of this convenience. But while folks are using these smartphones for music, GPS and taking pics, a relatively small percentage (18%) actually sought those phones for the apps they can run. Never mind that app downloads now equal that of songs; what this means is that the app market is being driven by a fairly small group of innovators. Everyone else needs to be educated about apps, and just plain get used to using them.

There’s thus a couple of phenomena playing out here. The first is the hardware, which we have now readily accepted. Fewer devices is good. The second is the software, and as a group we are still trying to figure out exactly what we can do with these expensive pocket or purse devices.

I don’t believe we have yet seen even a glimpse of what is to come.

The academic in me loves being in the middle of a huge consumer behavior revolution. As I wrote about recently, tablet computers are displacing sales of netbooks and notebooks. And now smartphones are allowing people to eliminate GPS, separate iPods, and basic cameras from their shopping lists.

In other words, these $300 phones (with their attendant $30/month unlimited data plans) may in fact be the best money we ever spent, because we can save a fortune not buying all the other things.

Never mind that my pockets are a lot emptier these days (and I don’t mean money). Ladies, your purses can be a little less cluttered. And I don’t need a small nuclear plant to recharge all of my stuff. This one-size-fits-all thing has me whistlin’ Dixie.

Which sounds a lot better than the nasty tune I sang three years ago.

Dr “Pair O’Dimes” Gerlich

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