Zack Morris Cell Phone

Smartphones vs smart consumers

Open Thread: Could you ever abandon your smartphone to save money, to start a social protest against apparent oligopoly, or to untether yourself from technology?

It’s an idea I constantly struggle with. We, as consumers, pay out the ass for cell phone service. No matter which carrier you go to, and how you tally up the cost of the features it is all pretty much the same stuff. What makes it worse is that service providers don’t care about you, they want your $100 per month on a two year contract. Oh, and don’t forget you already paid upwards of $200 for a smartphone. So I started to wonder, could I ever go back to a feature phone… or even a pay-as-you-go phone?

There are probably just as many compelling reasons to stay as there are to jump ship, let’s take a look:

Stay

For many of us, we’ve already become accustomed to  having instant access to email, GPS maps, games, and an increasingly better Internet experience. I mean, god forbid you never get to play Angry Birds again… because there are no other games that challenge you to find a correct trajectory and power to hit a target on the other side of a screen… not Worms, not Armored Strike, not Boom Blox, not Scorched Earth, not even Gorillas.BAS. Angry Birds is truly a paradigm shift in gaming. But seriously, there is a certain luxury and convenience to having a device with the level of convergence (Camera, GPS, social stream, media player… oh, and phone) that modern smartphones have, it’s difficult to imagine being without it.

The worth of a smartphone increases many orders of magnitude too when you travel. Plenty of apps are available to direct you to user recommended restaurants, help you find a safe public restroom, or navigate around a new part of town like a seasoned pro. In some cases your phone might also be the only source of Internet access you have away from home. It’s kind of a big deal.

Smart phones help you stay connected with friends too. A little Twitter on the go might help you find friends that are at a bar around the corner, or remind you about a show you were planning to go to. There are also plenty of “that just happened” moments that wouldn’t be so when you found out about them the next morning.

Jump Ship

Of course none of those “pros” has anything to do with the carrier, does it? The carrier wants to charge you for text messages, even though they are simply embedded in the secondary radio stream of your phone, at no additional burden to the carriers (read: free). Why do you think text messages are limited to 160 characters? But at $20 / mo or 25 ¢ / message it’s a pretty sweet way to make money. Here’s another awesome way to make money — making “plans” that don’t work for the consumer.  Example: $10 for 400 SMS vs $20 for 4000 SMS. What the hell is that logic? Or 200MB for $15, 2GB for $25, or 4GB for $25. These plans are designed to just barely have you go over your limits, only to cave into the next higher plan.

The service provider is also who prevents you from getting the latest updates for your Android device, or any updates for your Windows Phone 7 for that matter. Your smartphone is a device you want to get excited about, like we used to about computers — it was pretty awesome to move from Win2k to XP, and even better from Vista to 7. Unfortunately, your poor android device is going to be stuck on 2.1 until EOL… but you’ll renew your contract out of spite and you’re back on the hook… a hook, by the way, which will cost you at least $120 to get off of early (assuming you cancel your contract in the 23rd month). What awesome customer service, and let’s not even get started about phone support.

Man, everyone wants to sell you a phone now too, or more accurately, a contract. Have you been to the mall lately? Don’t bother, most shops are out of business — just island after island of Jersey Shore guys in white button ups who “just want to ask you a quick question” as you are walking by. Need a special battery or transistor for some electronics you’re maintaining? Well that’s too bad, because RadioShack carries cell phones now, take your hobby project to the Internet, loser. BestBuy used to draw customers into the store with cheap CDs and DVDs, but now the first thing you see at the end of the walkway are rows of cell phone displays with a special little desk set up to get you signed. How thoughtful. When did we become  nation of authorized resellers and points programs?

Let’s not forget about 4G either. Do you know how fast 4G is actually supposed to be? 100 Mbit in transit and 1Gbit for pedestrian use!!! That’s like being on your work LAN all the time. And, since I’m not firing ballistic missiles into my 4G hot-spot I don’t really care how you measure the time it takes to download a public domain novel.  Now, the promise of 4G has been distilled into a marketing term as long as “a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed.” What a rip, they should be legally required to write FourGeez (trademark pending) the same way DiGiorno has to spell WYNGS on the Pizza and WYNGS box.

 

So there you have it. I don’t know that I’d be able to detach myself from my smartphone, but you have my opinions. I’m not even sure if I can propose an alternative solution to the smartphone (although I’d imagine it has something to do with rubber-banding a iPod Touch to a 4G puck). What I do know is that someday the bottom will fall out, much the same way we see it happening with cable. It’s actually already happening now that you can port your number to Google to handle your voicemail and text (and by the way, this video would be much more appropriate if GLaDOS narrated it). Whether it’s Google, separation of phone and carrier, a switch to a pay as you go phone, or something else — I believe in a better way, and hopefully you do to.

Scott

Hi, I’m one of the founders of Nerd Appropriate and the Rated NA podcast. I like good and bad sci-fi films and tv, pho, and the retrofuture. I am primarily an Xbox gamer, but also do some PC and Wii U gaming as well. By day, I am a research scientist, mostly in topics related to human-computer interaction and user experience. Before all this, fellow NA co-founder Matt and I played music together in various bands. I also used to make "comedy" videos for my high school morning news program before there was a place to post them online. Favorite Star Wars character? Admiral Ackbar. Best Bond era? Timothy Dalton (Craig a close second). Game of all time? Maybe System Shock 2. Thanks for being a part of this labor of nerdy love with us.
  • To answer your question: I don’t know what you just said, but I do know I would like to be on Fast Forward.

  • Ash

    Great article. I’ve become very attached to my phone and actually do a lot of NA related stuff straight from my I-Phone. I’m not an Apple fanboy at all, but I so love the simplicity of the device. My days of building my own PC and “Jailbreaking” devices are over, just give me something that works well.

    • The iPhone is an exception insomuch that they can push updates independent of the carrier through iTunes. But those kinds of exceptions might represent the way forward for better consumer service / options.

      • matt

        Apple being able to push updates through iTunes is in spite of carriers wants. That was the power of Apple negotiating the way they did. There are similar experiences if you go straight from the source and get a google nexus. Beyond that I’m in agreement with Ash and prefer a working phone over a hacked one.

  • matt

    Spoken from a man not able to play Angry Birds on his phone. Sounds like you’re just an Angry Nerd (seewhatididthere).

    I honestly do to much on my phone to save on the internet costs, and to be honest with you, the minutes/fees are where the bulk of my bill come from. The $30/month for internet is almost a value bundle at that point. I think the argument is really no phone/smart phone. The savings wouldn’t be great enough to go with just a feature phone (you still pay for internet, although generally about $10 less), and a dumb phone with texting and minutes will again only cut out the cost of internet on the go.

    I think you’d be better off tracking your actual usage of minutes/texts/internet and buy the package that actually suits you instead of just going for “unlimited” which is the biggest lie ever and assuming you use to much.

  • Yes, agreed. The other point is whether or not the pricing is fair, and what if anything can be done about the way carriers treat consumers with respect to service, contracts, and phone sales.

    Is there also a consensus that smartphones are now mandatory equipment? There was a time when we had none.

  • Micah G

    Great article Scott. Phones are an interesting point of discussion at the hospital for a couple reasons. Hospitals are lined with lead for X-Rays (no service), we get free long distance on any phone and many are within reach, and we all text with pagers (ridiculous). I am lucky and my family has a great plan and my blackberry is cheap and furnished by my dad (aka, free for me)! However, I have no desire for apps on the go and the only real reason, in my apparently egocentric universe, is non-smart phones are just sort of ghetto looking. I often comment that all my blackberry is good for is its qwerty keyboard. The internet is too slow, email is decent (but I really don’t like getting emails the second they arrive), and the blackberry apps remind me of DOS. So, once big pops finally cuts me off I am curious what I will do. Because I sure as hell am not going to pay $100+ for a device I just use primarily as a texting platform.