The rise and rise of the smart phone has made a lot of other devices very nervous. Your smart phone; Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, yes even blackberry, is a Swiss army knife for the digital age. It’s a multi-tool. It can do pretty much everything. And if it can’t, well, there will be “an app for that” soon. But does this super tool make all the other specific devices redundant? Are we heading for a world where everyone has just one, shiny, pocket sized box?

Share prices fall

Some obvious examples of where the smart phone has dented the usage of other devices are; the camera, the music player, the camcorder, notepad (a paper pad is a device for this example), newspapers, GPS Sat Nav to name a few. When google announced that it was going to offer turn-by-turn navigation on Android, for free (!), the share price of TomTom and Garmin plummeted.  The arrival of the camera phone (even before the smart phone) had an impact on the sales figures of compact cameras. NFC is the technology making waves at the moment but will it’s arrival mean that we never use plastic cards for payment or real keys to start our cars or enter our homes? Are these specific devices destined to the scrap heap of history?

When do things change?

We need to be  a little careful. In the short term most of the devices are still needed. Smart phone technology is still new and while it offers adequate functionality to the casual user, specific devices are still needed for the “pro”. For example, I own an iPhone but I also recently purchased a new compact camera. The phone is great for the quick throw away shot that I might use on a twitter post, but to catch those magical memories it just doesn’t quite make the grade; yet. I use my phone for taking notes on the move but there is a paper pad on my desk. It’s just more convenient. Having said that, I can never see myself purchasing another iPod. My iPhone does the job just fine. Sat Nav is another interesting example. Most people who own one don’t really need it. We got by as a population with maps and a little forward planning just fine for many years. These casual users will now find it very difficult to part with £150+ for a specific device when they can get the App for £40 on iPhone and FREE on Android.  The smart phone version is not as slick as the purpose built device but you will put up with that if you are not a regular, “pro” user.

In the medium term, as technology improves, you can see this trend continuing.  I can see a day when I wont feel the need to purchase a compact camera. Many of you are probably already there. If you are serious about photography and into your SLRs etc then you will still want a specific device but casual users will not.

Long term, who knows? Will our phone entirely replace our wallets, keys, and IDs? Not any time soon, maybe never. There are a lot of barriers to overcome before we get to that point. Will we stop using pads of paper? Probably not, sometimes it’s just easier to write something down.

Context is still king

Like everything else when it comes to mobile technology the users context is what is important. Just because your device can do something does not mean that the user will want to use it to do that job.For example, my microwave has a grill built in. I never use it, instead going to my classic cooker based grill every time. In the same way, just because you can write notes of your phone or use it as a GPS system doesn’t mean that you will choose to do so.

Garmin were completely correct in releasing an App for £40. The casual user is not going to purchase a device for £150 anymore. However, these specific devices still have a place.  As service providers we need to be aware of where our customers are at. If we know our customers we know which of our services to take the time to move to the multi tool. However, we also need to be aware of the services of which there is no need to have an “app for that”.

Do you wish there was an app for that?

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on what you think a smart phone will never be used for. Also, what areas of life could be enhance by smart phone integration.

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