Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

The Smartphone Replacement Index

Smartphones are disrupting: watches, laptops, cameras, diaries, alarm clocks ...

[optional image description]

It used to be that we had dedicated devices for our various communications and entertainment and lifestyle needs. Want to call someone? Use a telephone. Want to go online? Use a laptop. Want to watch a TV show? Use a TV. Etc.

The smartphone, however, is changing all that -- and changing our assumptions about the purpose of a gadget in the first place. O2, the same network that documented the phone call's fifth-most-popular ranking among smartphone functions, also conducted research into the non-phone-y uses of the smartphone. What it found was a Swiss Army effect: people are using their smartphones not just as phones, and not even just as portable Internet cafes, but also as diaries and watches and cameras and alarm clocks and libraries and personal movie theaters. Dedicated-use devices are being replaced by the one device that can -- to an extent -- have it all.

Among the smartphone users surveyed in O2's research:

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

And here's the breakdown of the most popular phone functions, according to the percentage of users who say they engage in them:

phonerep615.png

What's notable here is both the diversity of functionality and the lack of it: people are using their phones for lots of different activities, but in almost identical percentages. There's not just one use of a smartphone; there are lots of little uses -- and they are all, on some level, equal. This is, in part, why the iPhone and its counterparts have proven so disruptive. Our assumptions of a one-use-one-device landscape -- complete with TV and book and DVD player and computer and clock and arcade -- are being themselves disrupted by a different assumption: of the singular device. The one-size-fits-all device. The device that, because it needs to be portable, also needs to be multi-purpose. 

Presented by

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.

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy. It's very organized."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Technology

Just In