Gadgets – In Praise of the Dumbphone

We’ll talk a bit about how Verizon’s attempt to not have to accept the iPhone is going to fail miserably, but first I wanted to talk about the problems of smartphones in general. The dick-measuring contest can’t obscure the fact that for most people the smartphone is actually a shitty deal.

1) They cost. A lot. Want an unlocked Blackberry? That’ll be $600. You know what I can buy for $600? Two netbooks.

2) The network. True, you can, in theory, access the Internet everywhere. But how long, especially in urban areas, is this truly going to be an advantage? To amuse myself, I grabbed a bus from downtown Cambridge, MA, to my home in another Boston suburb, basically a poor man’s war-drive, and I found no less than fifty unlocked networks in about two miles. Going through what amounted to somewhat poor neighborhoods, no less; Boston isn’t exactly rife with slums compared to other cities. And this is even before the drive to make wi-fi as plentiful as water.

More to the point, is there really any difference in speed from stolen wi-fi? Or any less risk you’ll get disconnected? Why am I giving a company more than a thousand dollars a year for a service that even in the best of times isn’t even entirely reliable for phone calls? Do I really want these clowns handling my banking? Or anything else if I can avoid it?

3) The data plan in the first place. We don’t accept broadband caps in our homes: what the hell are they doing on cell phones? Why are we paying $100 a month for the privilege of being bugged with emails before you even get into the office and watching YouTube Poop on the bus? I refuse to believe data plans aren’t exceptionally overpriced, especially considering the service you get. This is the industry that charges you a dime to send a text message, which is grossly overinflated next to the actual cost of sending the thing.

Sure, there are some manufacturers, it’s pretty clear what they’re up to. All Apple’s really done with the iPhone is recruit AT&T to sell what amounts to a fancy new iPod. And RIM is trying to position themselves as the mature, intelligent mobile phone for business, which is why they still make a phone that makes you look like a fucking dork. I know they don’t want to look too much like the iPhone, but Christ, a tiny-ass keyboard? Still? Even Palm was smart enough to realize how shameful a keypad is in a day of touchscreens and hid it behind one.

But the rest it just seems like mindless trend-hopping that doesn’t consider what the consumer could actually use. Sure, Apple made a fortune with the iPhone, but does anybody really give a shit about Nokia’s version? Or Motorola’s version? Or any of the other knock-offs? Not if the sales are anything to go by.

It’s not like the dumbphone is dying off: as long as there are cheap pricks like me who just want to make phone calls, they’ll keep making them. I’m fairly sure my next dumbphone will actually come in a cereal box and I’ll mistake it for a credit card. But I’m also fairly sure that unless manufacturers start making their phones more than just “an iPhone except…”, that it’s going to be made by Apple or RIM.

Now, as for Verizon’s heavy push for “Droid”, one question:

You’ve seen the ads, right? Can you tell me who they’re aimed at?

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