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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

A Surprisingly Long List of Everything Smartphones Replaced

Hundreds of dollars and as many pounds of goods supplanted, thanks to a single device.

  • July 23, 2012

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s new in smartphones – novel applications of near field communication, their potential as detectors of environmental pollutants – but it’s also useful to occasionally look back on what they’ve granted us already. Indeed, a recent survey found that, at least in the UK, 4 in 10 smartphone users said their phone was “more important for accessing the Internet than any other device.”

Samsung’s booth at the IFA electronics show (photo: Robert Scoble)

If you spent enough time in the dark ages before they were ubiquitous, you’ve probably got a sense of the sheer number of physical objects which your phone replaced. But have you ever tried listing all of them? You might be surprised at just how long that list can grow. Here’s mine.

Physical objects fully supplanted by iPhone 4S with retina display:

~ 50 pounds of books (via Kindle, iBooks)

Kindle e-reader

daily newspaper

pocket digital camera (via built-in camera)

holga film camera (via Instagram, ToyCamera app)

pocket foreign language dictionaries

scanner (via Genius Scan)

bank ATMs (via USAA’s app, which allows deposits via snapshot)

GPS device

road maps / printouts from Mapquest and Google Maps

reporter’s notebook (I find tapping out notes isn’t any slower than writing them)

voice recorder

handwritten grocery lists (via DropBox-syncing Plaintext)

Nintendo DS

iPod

radio (via NPR app / Hype Machine / iTunes / Spotify / Pandora)

paper comics (via Comixology)

set-top box remote (via the Roku app)

paper receipt file (via EZ receipts)

Partially supplanted:

television

business cards (via CardCloud)

This list doesn’t even include all the things my phone does that no other object accomplished before I got it, including music recognition via Shazam, countless location-dependent mobile services, the indescribably wonderful Star Walk app, etc. It also doesn’t include some just-over-the-horizon technologies that will make our phones even more useful (and irreplaceable).

Will be supplanted:

Credit and debit cards (via app, NFC or QR codes)

loyalty cards

Looking further into the future, there is the very real possibility that our phones will quite simply become our default computing hubs. And by computing, I mean just about everything with a chip in it.

Could be supplanted:

set-top boxes

driver’s license or other forms of ID

laptop (via a docking solution)

It’s easy to argue that people won’t, after all, want a single device that does everything. But there’s an economic and even social rationale here that can’t be ignored: the more we replace with our phones, the fewer consumer electronics we have to keep updated, and the less cluttered our lives can become.

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