Maybe We Should Stop Calling Smartphones 'Phones'

Making calls is now the second third fourth fifth most popular thing to do with a smartphone.

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Every day, the average smartphone user spends 128 minutes actively using the device. That's just over two hours. The average user is spending those 128 minutes surfing the Internet (for nearly 25 minutes), engaging in social networking (for more than 17), listening to music (more than 15), and playing games (more than 14). 

What the average user is doing relatively little of, however, is talking -- using the smartphone as, you know, a phone. The average user is spending around 12 minutes doing that -- making talking with friends a less popular activity than playing, say, "Words with Friends."


This is all per a report released by the UK mobile network O2 (more on the numbers here). And the findings translate: voice minutes per user have been falling here in the States since 2008, according to CTIA, the wireless industry association; customers, as such, have been cutting back on their voice plans. That's due in part, perhaps, to the fact that the iPhone, the ur-smartphone, relies on notoriously inconsistent networks for its voice services ... but it's due as well to the cultural shifts away from the phone conversation itself. A text message is more efficient than a voice call; an email -- which lets the recipient respond in his or her own time -- can be the most considerate way, these days, to reach out and touch someone.

The smartphone itself is both a cause and an effect of that shift. In offering efficient alternatives to the phone call, it helps assure not the obsolescence of the call itself, but the evolution of the call into a kind of luxury good -- reserved for the most valuable people in our lives. The smartphone introduces friction into the concept of a "phone" itself. As a portable calling device, the smartphone is bulky and call-droppy and shattery (who makes a mobile device out of glass?) and, it must be said, noticeably unfriendly to the cheek. As a portable computer, however, the smartphone is elegant and efficient and -- Mr. Jobs was not exaggerating -- revolutionary. It's a computer with phone functionality, rather than the other way around. 

In that context, O2's fifth-most-popular findings are perfectly aligned with the smartphone's trajectory as an interface and as a cultural product. We spend twice as much time Internet-ing as we do talking? We spend about 12 hours a month on the mobile web, and about six on the mobile phone? Yep, seems about right. The O2 research puts stats to something that's been clear for the past five years: that the smartphone is much more about the "smart" than the "phone." 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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