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Sometimes a phone isn’t a phone. So what is it?

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O2, the UK-based mobile phone company, recently released a report about smartphone usage, that shows that iPhones and its peers are being used in ways that are remarkably different from the way we used phones five years ago.

Smartphone users spend more time browsing the internet (25 minutes a day), social networking (17 minutes a day), playing games (13 minutes a day) and listening to music (16 minutes a day) than they do making calls (12 minutes).

We spend about 11 minutes a day on email, 10.2 minutes on text messaging and when you total it all up, we stare at our smartphones for a whopping 128 minutes. Holy moly!But wait there is more. The study shows that:

  • Over half (54%) say they use their phones in place of an alarm clock
  • Almost half (46%) have dispensed with a watch in favour of using their smartphone
  • Two-in-five (39%) have switched to use their phone instead of a separate camera
  • Over one quarter use their phone instead of a laptop (28%)
  • One in ten have got shot of a games console in favour of their handset (11%)
  • Perhaps indicative of where things are moving, one in twenty smartphone users have switched to using their phone in place of a TV (6%) or reading physical books (6%)

All the usage can easily be explained by the power of touch. As I wrote in my post celebrating the fifth anniversary of the iPhone:

So when we touch that phone, we don’t just touch a device and its screen, we make it part of ourselves. The internet is not a strange, cold, uncomfortable, cluttered space. That touch is what turns an inanimate object from metal and plastic to an extension of ourselves. (And that is why Apple worked really hard to get the touch right.) The touch-ability is what prompts people to use the phone again and again. And in the process, it transforms our relationship with the network.

With touch and the Internet, the original iPhone and smartphones that follow have started to treat voice calls and now SMS as what they really are – apps on the IP network. And all these non-phone call behaviors and uses make me wonder – isn’t it time to just stop calling these smartphones. Thoughts? Suggestions?

15 Responses to “Sometimes a phone isn’t a phone. So what is it?”

  1. Reblogged this on Snowballs in winter and commented:
    Well worth a re-blog. Along the same lines as my post earlier today about what mobile is all about. These are no longer phones – they’re very powerful computers, that we can use anywhere we want due to their size and do anything we want to do. And oh yeah, you can still call someone if you want to…

    The future is mobile!

  2. Hortron

    You guys have been trumpeting the mobile world for years now. Part of me has always been resistant to accept this fundamental shift, and the other week I had my epiphany about it:

    The issue is that ergonomically speaking, the masses have accepted the smartphone form factor as the most compelling interface into the web, into joining into this connectedness. For most people there is less effort involved when using a smart phone than when using a desktop or laptop.

    (There’s a sort of professorness about sitting down at a console and being immersed in your work, when there’s no true need for mobility, those who find this posture attractive are few and really geeky – the majority are not, and getting over the seated-and-tool nature of using the web has driven this second (or third) phase of things)

    I’m not so sure I buy your notion of touch – instead I think it’s more about the lack of keyboard and mouse and being tethered to a desk or seat.

    But I’m with Simon, this is the evolution of what a Phone means.

  3. Anuj Agarwal

    My mom and dad both got their iPhone 4s recently. Before they got one, every evening they use to spend more than couple of hours watching late evening soaps. But these days they spend hours and hours playing temple run, angry birds, solitaire etc etc on their iphones. They compete with each other to see who is scoring more points in temple run. This is Disruptive. I could never have imagine such dramatic change in their lives.

  4. Touchscreens also combat keyboard click noise, which would be deafening if we were all clicking as vigorously as the starts indicate.

  5. Simon

    “And all these non-phone call behaviors and uses make me wonder – isn’t it time to just stop calling these smartphones?”

    Most people don’t call them smartphones. They call them phones. And that’s what the phone has become. Just as we don’t use computers mainly to compute, we no longer use phones mainly to phone. The name represents the origins, not the overall use or purpose.

  6. Robert Horvitz

    Om, we made the same point in “Perspectives on the socio-economic value of shared spectrum access” – our recent study for the European Commission: “we need to stop thinking of these devices as cell phones because they are already so much more. In the same way that large flat LCD/LED displays now have many inputs, so they are general purpose image presentation surfaces, not just televisions, our handsets are becoming general purpose nodes of connectivity, data capture, storage, processing, retrieval and display – less like telephones than microcomputers with multiple radio links. In its reports on IMT-Advanced, the ITU speaks of mobile handsets as ‘portable personal internet access devices’ – an inelegant phrase, to be sure, but one that seems accurate. They need a catchier name, to help us think about what they are becoming.”

  7. Dan G

    I was doing some of that stuff with a stylus back in 2005 with my Verizon Windows Mobile XV6600. Even the 4′ screen is somewhat frustrating to get around with my finger. The expansive 4.65′ screen of my Verizon Nexus is finally making touch enjoyable for me. Coupled with 4G LTE, it’s awesome to get my Nexus out of my pocket and catch up with my Netflix queue without having to look for wifi.

  8. christa

    Smart-phones utility is not only limited to personal use but has extended it’s arms in businesses as well to provide enterprise mobility to the workforce of an organization.
    Companies are now more concerned about the quality productivity from it’s workforce by liberating them from the shackles of staying in office and working. Rather, employees can now do work even if they are out station, while a business still keeping the data security sound enough.

  9. Edith Yeung

    It’s not surprising but still amazing to see smartphone users spend more time browsing the internet (25 minutes a day) than they do making calls (12 minutes). A phone is not really a phone anymore. It’s a mini life console on the go.