This year, smartphone giants Samsung and Apple have revealed pretty vanilla product developments. Knee-jerk reports and thinkpieces rifled through the tech sphere with one clear message: we have officially reached peak smartphone.
Slowing sales backed up the headline drama, but don’t get it twisted – sales are still on the up. However, according to commerce analysts Gartner, this year’s increase will be more like seven percent rather than last year’s 14 percent – or the dizzy heights of 2010, when smartphone sales increased by 73 percent.
The main reasons for us reaching the suspected summit of smartphones is that there’s just not a lot to get excited about that isn’t in your pocket already. Functionality-wise, design-wise and innovation-wise technology has leveled, and there are few new functions that can dazzle us (although waterproof phones are pretty cool). We’ve been surfing the smartphone wave since 2007; things were always going to plateau eventually.
Are We Getting Sick of Smartphones?
Conveniently, many of us have reach personal peak smartphone, too. Our lives have become so dominated by internet connectivity and smart accessibility that we’re now seeing apps such as Moment, which is a a smartphone bootcamp to help you and your family reduce the amount you use your phone daily (including cutting down on screen time during family meals and while on the toilet).
We’re also seeing recorded medical terms such as Transient Smartphone Blindness, where smartphone users have literally lost sight due to late night smartphone use. A research company in America recently revealed that one in three young American adults would rather go without sex for three months than give up their smartphone for a week. Honestly. And earlier this year, LA man Aaron Chervenak took his smartphone to Vegas and married it. Seriously.
This weirdness doesn’t even come close to the headlines we’ve seen in the feverish AR haze of Pokemon Go mania: players have found corpses and been robbed, and one player was so busy playing while driving he crashed into a police car. Players have been catching Pokemon in a holocaust museum.
Pokemon Go gave Nintendo, the smartphone market and augmented reality a billion dollar kick up the ass, but if this isn’t peak smartphone, then we’re in for an even weirder, more fucked up future than we thought.
We’re in too deep. Way too deep. There’s no way we’re going to defenestrate our lifelines. Besides Insta, Snapchat and enriching our music collections one Shazam at a time, smartphones help us work, coordinate our lives, keep us in touch with our families and take HD photos and videos while they’re at it. Smartphones are here to stay.
Dumb & Dumber
However, there is a compromise. Another device for certain moments in our lives when we don’t need to catch a rare Lapra, see how many retweets we’ve had or face-palm at our mum on Facebook. Moments in our lives when, for the sake of our IRL experiences, we need to unplug and have a phone that is what it is: a phone. Something to take and receive calls and messages. A dumbphone.
Candy bar phone, old school phone, retro phone, flip phone (design allowing): Dumbphones have many names, but the technical term is a feature phone; a 2G device all our phone-bearing forefathers happily used throughout the ’90s and most of the 2000s. They can range from straight-up call, SMS and torch (if you’re lucky) to camera, music player and basic internet/email connectivity. No apps, no social media, no drama.
They’re also cheap, secure and safe from malware and privacy invasions; they’re small and robust and you can crack their plastic screens for days. They’re not without their retro charm and their batteries can last upwards of a week. Most importantly, their sales are on the up: last year feature phones sales in America increased to 24.5 million; Microsoft revealed they make more from feature phones than smartphones and feature phones are forecast by market analysts CCS Insight to sell over 590 million worldwide this year.
This impressive figure is down to many things, largely affordability: pricy phone contracts are still a luxury. A major chunk of feature phone sales are also made in the developing world where 3G coverage is still thin to non-existent. There are parents who want their children to be able to keep in touch but without the lure of the internet (or the responsibility of an expensive phone).
There’s also been a growing rise in celebrity endorsements over the last two years. Eddie Redmayne publicly cherished his dumbphone for its non-invasiveness late last year, and Iggy Pop praised his for being unbreakable a few months before. Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson and Vogue editor Anna Wintour have also been snapped with them.
Why a Dumbphone Could Be a Smart Move
Really, though, no celebrity endorsement needs to tell us what we already know: we all suffer data fatigue, and we could all do with a little more offline time. Unplugged. A Bank Of America study last year revealed over 50 percent of its respondents aged 18-29 checked their smartphones every five minutes.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the University of Derby found that “higher scores of narcissism and levels of neuroticism were linked to smartphone addiction” and suggested that smartphones should come with a health warning.
Other benefits of dumbphones include use on holidays, traveling or festivals; preventing any unnecessary distractions from the actual experience. They’re robust for use in sports or use on the beach. And if the rumors of Apple’s patented system to prevent you from taking films and pictures at concerts do come into play (music to the ears of Jack White, The Lumineers, Savages, Jarvis Cocker, Pink Floyd and many other anti-smartphone bands), you won’t even need your smartphone at a gig anyway.
So while few of us could realistically quit our smartphones, there’s arguably room for a dumbphone on the side. We’re also pretty spoilt for choice on the market: High end-wise, the most popular model is minimalist pocket calculator-style Punkt MP01, with its dimpled golfball back and lean, black-backed screen, which retails for $325. There’s also the $100 Light Phone, a Kickstarter success story that’s a beautifully sleek, credit card-sized touch screen device that can work in isolation or receive forwarded calls from your smartphone.
Lower down the range are the more classic-style dumbphones, all of which are cheap and in abundance. The Nokia 215 boasts a battery life of 29 days and a price tag of $50, the Samsung E1270 is a cute frill-free flip phone that goes for $55 and the most basic of basic Blu Tank II T193 sells for under $20.
At prices like that, a second phone is more than justifiable and, with a second SIM, could be the perfect investment to preserve your sanity and social life. We may well have reached peak smartphone, but our own IRL experiences and connections have barely started. Disagree? Send us an SMS.
Not convinced you need to put down your smartphone? Then check out the 11 best iMessage apps you can download right now.
- Words: Dave Jenkins
- Lead image: Church Mag