The End of the Phone Is Getting Closer

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Verizon has just announced the first ever data-share cell phone plans, meaning that end of the phone we predicted a couple weeks ago just got closer. After a prescient prediction from AT&T CEO Randall Stevenson that cell phone companies would soon enough offer data only plans, Verizon Wireless has put out the first iteration of these voice-light plans, reports AllThingsD's Ina Fried. "The plans, known as 'Share Everything,' allow users an unlimited number of calls and texts and also allow data usage to be pooled among up to 10 devices on one account," she writes. Don't let the unlimited voice offer fool you, this is step one to a voice-less world. And, as we explained the other day, without the audio part, we can't really call a phone a phone.

The new plans, which will go into effect at the end of this month, will be the only option for new customers. Rather than offer a price for talking, another for texting and another for data, the new set-up will charge per device and data. Fried explains: "The per-device charges range from $40 for each smartphone to $10 for a tablet, while the data portion ranges from $50 for 1GB to $100 for 10GB," she writes.

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These come with unlimited minutes for speaking, meaning we haven't seen the total elimination of the phone-call -- yet. But this is a move in that direction. With these mandatory data-first plans, Verizon has acknowledged that user-habits are changing. People don't call as much anymore, so the wireless carrier doesn't lose much offering unlimited call-time. Rather, people use, and will therefore over-use data. Not only does Verizon want to lure customers with plans that work for their lifestyles, but it wants to go where it can make money. As people use more data, overage charges have gotten more common. In fact, they have gotten so common that the Federal Communications Commission has mandated that cell phone companies alert customers when they have incurred these charges, after conducting a survey that found one in six mobile customers had experience bill shock.

Beyond accommodating data usage, these new plans also encourage owning and using devices that were never called phones. As the "Share Everything" name implies, customers can now split data between their smartphones and tablets for a fee per additional device. This makes owning a tablet in addition to a smartphone a more economical choice than before, when users had to buy two separate plans. Though people use their smartphones and tablets for different activities, as this recent Nielsen survey found, when people use their tablets they for sure do not do any calling.

And soon enough, that will be the case for phones, too -- once they come with those data only plans Stevenson suggestion -- making them sound an awful lot like tablets. In fact, we know we put a call out for a replacement name for the smartphone, but perhaps we should just start calling them extra-small tablets. Mini-tablets? Baby tablets?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.