When it becomes normal


There is one thing guaranteed to happen to most people and that is boredom created by over-familiarity. In the case of smartphones that is not quite the case, but it is a kind of lethargy that is perhaps the biggest threat of all to the industry. 

I can only judge such things on my experiences and those I know well, but at some point smartphones became normal and the excitement started to drift for many of us who were there at the start. While it is true that millions of people are in the ‘excitement phase’ at this time, it is also true that at some point they may join those who have already owned +10 phones.

Unavoidably phone evolution is slowing down and we are left with nibbling around the edges when it comes to innovation, or rather taking the edges away and just leaving us with a screen that does everything we need. At the risk of sounding like a complete pessimist I’m just not seeing where the next big leap can come from.

Evolutionary steps are fine by me, however, because I have reached the happy place where my phone does what I need it to and I really could not care less if it has a very fast processor, a wonderful camera or an edge to edge screen. As long as I can organise my life, get around, play music and catch the news what else do I really need my phone to do?

The smartphone is more important to me than ever. It is also more familiar and invisible than ever, but exciting it is not. Potentially this causes a problem for the industry because it means that people like me are less likely to spend big on a new phone and are more likely to upgrade less frequently. 

The industry will adjust of course, but it feels as though something big is needed within the next 12 months or so to stop the financial and volume charts dropping like a stone.

7 thoughts on “When it becomes normal

  1. As a device, or anything really, becomes more standardized and each change is smaller compared to the whole, it engenders less excitement. I don’t think that’s boredom, unless you’re forced to dwell on it. It’s just that new announcements become less interesting. The devices become more appliance like. Do we ever get excited when a new toaster is released? Are we even aware that it’s released?

  2. Welcome to the Hedonic Treadmill. Population: All of Us.

    Sometimes I still get myself a little frisson of excitement about how cool the little gadget I’m carrying is, how chuffed I am to have my Todo list all organized on it, and my music all sorted and at the ready, etc. I think that’s a weird kind of consumerist mindfulness. I’d seriously suggest people do that – take inventory of the blessings bestowed upon you by an engineering savvy society – from crisp clean water, hot showers, and flush toilets, to public health saving us from a bajillion ailments, to our crazy ability to travel at 60 mph like it ain’t no thing and hundreds of miles faster than that for a reasonable sum, to the way our little gadgets have access to SO much information, and provide (for worse but generally better) a constant lifeline of contact with our loved ones. Be thankful for all this stuff, because it’s well-nigh miraculous.

    But it’s old news. In fact it’s been just a gradual incline from the Palm days – with some spikes for me, like at the launch of iPhone (where it added a good browser for wifi in my pocket and subsumed my iPod) and some other times (when the GPS became good enough to drive with, when the camera became deft enough to make the PowerShot seem superfluous, when the cellular network made non-wifi use more than a novelty)

    People who gripe about “oh there’s no innovation”- well, they’re not wrong, but rarely do they have any damn suggestions. Some of the stuff I’d find useful…. like, a REALLY intelligent, context-aware Siri, or glasses with the ability to help with my face blindness – are technically possible but privacy nightmares. (or if the processing could be done locally, are awaiting advances in power cells) Other advances remains hypothetical scifi tech – like a true holographic display ala Star Wars (but with better coloring than a 1970s B+W TV) Or a physical screen that could add bumps and divots to itself so as to improve ergonomics. (Though come to think of it I’m not sure how either of those last two would change my pattern of living all that much)

    But yeah, “we’re removing bezels”, whoop-de-doo. Oh, and besides that our phone is REALLY thin – truly the modern pinnacle of designer wankage.

    On the Apple front, if they manage to really nail facial unlock, I guess some people might dig that.

    If Apple announced Pencil support on the high end model, that in combination with the dual camera (but not the giant form factor) might get me to upgrade, but until those boxes are ticked for me personally I’ll be pretty cool with my SE for a while. (FWIW, I think I like the middle form factor better now, but SE is good enough.)

    1. Innovation is often considered to be an advancement that we didn’t know we wanted or needed. So most people won’t have any truly innovative suggestions. The Internet was an innovation. Sure it was predicted, but the general public didn’t know anything about the predictions or the work that was going on until it snuck up on them. The iPhone is considered to be an innovation in that it merged devices and really went online. The next innovation will probably be as much of a surprise as those and may well not be related to anything we take for granted today.

      Every now and then I think back to how things were in the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s. Then it blurs. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. The excitement is where we’ll be in 5, 10, or 20 years.

      1. Yeah, I guess some of my thought was how people say “well Company X isn’t innovating” that’s why they’re lagging as if it’s at all reasonable to expect some kind of game-changing improvement at semi-regular intervals. (I guess in this case Company X is usually Apple ) And as Shaun’s ebook points out, even the iPhone wasn’t the bolt from the blue that many might think. (Nor was it just a slight rise in the evolution from what was coming before) It was an exquisite precipice built on what came before in terms, but did a few things extraordinarily well (browser in a palm, glass touch screen w/ corresponsing kinematics in the UI, etc)

  3. rereading the original first paragraph; at some point it’s going to come to the durability of the devices. Like the way laptops have matured and even a 4 or 5 year old macbook can do most every task, older smartphones are “good enough” for most uses. (I suppose a smaller fraction of PC laptops are built to the same standard and durability? I’m out of the loop. It is incredibly strange that Apple has like less than 10% of worldwide sales, yet in Boston, it’s the PC laptops that seem like a distinct minority.)

    The other change, as or more significant at least in the USA, is all the carriers going something more like a “bring your own device” model. The old 2 year plans masked the device cost and set expectations. The loss of that combined with the lack of qualitative improvement in features year after year makes is a real one-two punch.

    And then in China, the dominance of WeChat as the most important thing a phone does means phones can be even more a commodity.

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