Get Over Your Gigahertz: Don't Turn Smartphones Into PCs

Motorola has plans for a 2GHz smartphone with all the bells and whistles it can cram into a pocket-sized device, according to its co-CEO Sanjay Jha. While the geeky chip side of me is terribly excited about a phone that’s more powerful than the laptop I owned as recently as 2005, I also feel like shaking those in the tech world that think this is the way to sell a fun, personal device like a smartphone. Get over your gigahertz, people; the consumer doesn’t care.

One of the best things about smartphones is that most people don’t think of them as computers, so let’s not turn them into PCs with all this performance-based chest-thumping, please. For example, the whole emphasis on the clock speed races between Intel and AMD for desktops and notebooks was a marketing effort aimed at PCWorld readers and benchmark aficionados. The result with such approaches, however, is that decidedly non-tech-savvy consumers end up feeling like they need to do heavy research before going out to make a purchase.

It’s happening with smartphones, and that’s no good for the industry or the consumer. According to FCC research, 54 percent of consumers are subject to some kind of termination fee because they bought their cell phone under a contract, which means the phone is already a commitment. But the incredible amount of press given to rather minor updates, which come fast and furious, has people stressed out. When my sister-in-law asks me in a worried voice if she needs to care about multitasking on her phone and friends send me emails telling me they’re not going with an iPhone 4 because the Retina Display isn’t as good as Steve Jobs said it was, the industry is not headed down a good path.

Smartphones aren’t toys, but high-end devices that now take work to research, set up and use — and for many, all that work is prohibitive. My dad got a Sprint EVO 4G last weekend and texted me asking why Pandora, which he was excited about downloading, needed access to his contact information (when you download an Android app you get a nice little list of things the application has access to on the phone). I told him I didn’t know, and he subsequently decided he didn’t want to download it.

I know that phones are becoming more complex, but instead of trumpeting superphones that have better, faster components, their manufacturers need to start emphasizing the simplicity of the user experience, as HTC does. They also need to show people how to use these phones, so they’re not solely viewed as trendy email devices. AMD might have the right idea with its Vision marketing, which focuses more on uses and less on specs. Finally, device makers need to work on the user interface and use cases so that people can explore their phones without getting intimidated by music streaming apps asking for access to their contact info. Frankly, we need to keep the computing nearly invisible — an area where Apple is actually doing a great job.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d): For Phones, the Future is Multiple Cores

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