Smartphones have become boring. And I don’t mean that in some kind of ultra-enthusiast, super geeky, and technical way. I mean that, for most people, smartphones are not an interesting, let alone exciting, thing. Most people look at buying a new smartphone like buying a new pair of running shoes: you read some reviews on a few blogs, you browse Zappos, maybe you even go down to a local athletic store and try some on. In the end, you buy some shoes, you keep them for a couple years (or longer, I’m not judging!), and you replace them when they seem worn out.
Smartphones are, in the broadest sense, a lot like a pair of tennis shoes. They’re a necessity in our lives, an expensive one—enough so to be worth thinking about before buying. They’re something we use a lot, something we rely on to perform a fairly demanding function, and something we expect to, eventually, replace with a very similar and perhaps very incrementally better iteration of themselves. As with smartphones, shoes have enthusiasts, too: Nike will happily sell you a $250 pair of running shoes that, as far as most of us are concerned, offer no meaningful benefit over a pair costing half that much. And Samsung will sell you a big, bulky folding smartphone that costs twice as much as a normal phone and which, for the vast majority of people, will provide no meaningful benefit over that normal phone.
I am not saying that the person who really wants that $250 pair of running shoes doesn’t exist. And I’m not saying the person who really wants a $2000 folding smartphone doesn’t exist, either. Of course they do. Pick a thing, and you can find someone who is extremely into it and who spends a significant portion of their income on that thing because it has come to define, in part, what they value and who they are as a person. And that’s fine! It’s your money, it’s your life, and it’s the stuff you’re interested in: go for it! But like those $250 shoes, that $2000 smartphone will never have a big audience. Because most people do consider how much money they spend on things, and a smartphone increasingly firmly falls into the category of necessities, rather than of luxuries.
Ten years ago, a smartphone wasn’t a necessity. You didn’t need an iPhone. Sure, some business-types like lawyers and executives could really justify the enhanced productivity a device like a BlackBerry or an iPhone enabled, but they were a tiny sliver of the larger cell phone market. Then, smartphones blew up: iPhones in the US, and Android for much of the rest of the world, exploded into popularity as their capabilities advanced so far and fast beyond what most previous mobile phones could offer that they were a transformative force in our society not seen since, I would argue, the mass-produced automobile. How we work, communicate, buy things, get places, answer questions, consume media, and a handful of other things radically changed because [ … ]