Quick thought: How often do you use your smartphone to actually make calls?
Back in the mid-1990s, when mobile phones were first becoming mainstream, it was all about the calls. The carriers back then (Piltel Mobiline, SMART, and later Globe and Islacom) did battle through call plans and how many minutes of calls you can make per month.
“How many actual calls do you place in a day?”
Today, if you’re using a smartphone, actual calls are just one of the many ways by which you can communicate with the people around you. And it’s becoming almost an afterthought at that. How many actual calls do you place in a day? You’re more likely to send a text message (which is what originally put Globe into the mobile map), or send an email. More to the point, you will more often use your smartphone for internet-related tasks such as browsing, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. And apps of course.
All of which means that the word “phone” is now becoming kind’a archaic. Hmmm. Perhaps it’s now time to bury this word so that we can move on.
“Phone” gets its modern conventional meaning from “telephone,” which in turn is from tele, which means “far”, and the Greek word for voice or sound, phono. So “phone” presumes a device for making voice calls. Which was basically what a telephone has been since Bell first commercialized the gadget.
Back in the 1990s, “mobile phone” came to define handheld devices for making voice calls. In so doing, “telephone” became relegated exclusively to wired calling devices. Somewhere in between came the “cordless phone,” and the fact that people felt allergic to calling a cordless phone a “telephone” implies just how tethered the telephone had become to its wire.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the explosion of affordable mobile phones in the market (thank you, Nokia), the term evolved to “cellphone,” which was a more casual, everyday term. However, this was also the time when people began using their cellphones more for text messages rather than for actual calls. Still, we nevertheless felt comfortable still calling these devices phones. After all, just like traditional phones, they still had keypads.
“There’s now an entire generation that doesn’t know how to type text using a numeric keypad.”
Smartphones changed everything. Now you had a flat touchscreen and that’s it. More important, here was finally a device that, while it still can make voice calls, is used predominantly for “smart” functions such as surfing and getting information. The numeric keypad, which was the last stronghold for the device’s physical point of parity with the traditional phone, has vanished. In its place is either a soft keyboard or a full QWERTY keypad. So there’s now an entire generation that doesn’t know how to type text using a numeric keypad.
The telephone is also vanishing from households. More and more families are choosing to cancel their phone subscriptions because they’re realizing how redundant it is given that everyone in the family has a cellphone or smartphone.
The last stronghold of the “phone” as a true-to-form concept can be seen in offices. Somehow, commercial entities still feel that they aren’t a “real” business unless they had a real landline phone in the premises. After all, you want the business itself to have its own number that’s not tied to any individual. But even this is eroding as new businesses, with younger and more relaxed entrepreneurs, begin to rely more on web addresses and Facebook accounts than on telephones.
The phone, as we know it, is dying.
So should we still call these devices smartphones? Isn’t it time for us to change the terminology?
On a semantic level, we use the word “phone” today more to denote the device size, rather than its use for voice calls. So we have the phone format and the tablet format. The 40-somethings laugh at the idea of using tablets to make voice calls, but the younger generations aren’t laughing. We are now seeing a new generation emerge that won’t be able to make a distinction between a “phone” and a “tablet.” To them, these are all the same devices, just in a variety of shapes and sizes.
“Phone or tablet? It’s all the same device.“
Blame the Samsung Galaxy Note for that, sure.
But it’s time that we retire the word “phone.” It’s no longer relevant on so many levels. Call these smartphones smart devices if you must. Or if you’re a Trekkie, communicators (although, Trekkily speaking, they’re more a hybrid of the communicator and the tricorder). But today’s smartphones are nearly nothing like their technological ancestors.
So what would you propose to call smartphones? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
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