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

iPhone 4S

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?

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